Thursday, December 18, 2008

If you measure me in strange ways...

As a teacher, part of my job is assessing students. When I was a data processing manager part of my job was giving annual performance reviews. I am still on both ends of the measurement activity: I measure others, and I get measured.

I have three main opinions about assessments. The first is taken from a fellow educator Robert F. Mager. He wrote a famous book called Defining Instructional Objectives. In the preface of his 1984 book he says, “If you’re not interested in measuring the effectiveness of your instruction, you’ve just finished reading this book.”

This quote instructs me in the importance of measuring things. If you measure things, you end with data that can be analyzed. You are freed from simply relying upon you gut feelings, which are sometimes arbitrary. Measurements give you a way of measuring improvement.

But measurements are often misused, so I have two adages to protect me from misusing measurements. The first is this, “If you measure me in strange ways, don’t be surprised if I act strangely.” Some things are hard to measure, like what makes a good computer programmer? Someone thought that good programmers wrote a lot of programs, so they tied pay raises to lines of code written. Guess what happened? Yup, programmers started acting strangely, and their programs got really, really long. See if you can find strange behavior born of strange measurements in your world.

My second saying to protect myself from misusing measurements is this, “What you measure often improves, so be careful what you measure.” Here’s an example: many people want to lose weight, so they keep track of their weight. They may even reduce their daily food intake enough to lose weight. Unfortunately much of their weight loss is water and muscle. A better measurement would be losing fat. If the weight loss is fat, then you save your muscles. Saving your muscles keeps you from undermining your bodies ability to burn calories and keep you strong.

So those are my three rules-of-thumb for dealing with measurements. Used well, measurements help you find your personal best, help you move up in the pack, and help you know if you’re improving or not.

Now have fun looking for ways you’re being measured, ways you’re measuring others, and how both may need improving.

One final thought.
As I was driving to work yesterday thinking about the topic of measurements, I thought about how God measures me, or what He wants from me. What came to mind was an Old Testament verse, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Justice, mercy, and a daily walk with God: those are measurements worth aspiring to.


  1. Now I know why so many people think I'm weird!

    They're using a weird ruler. :D