Once You Start Measuring Something, Don't Ever Stop

The baseball playoffs just concluded a few months ago, and it's always fun to watch. One thing that I'm frequently amazed by when I'm watching baseball is the intensity with which pitch counts are followed these days. Pitch counts are by definition the number of pitches that a pitcher has thrown in a game, and are measured intensely, and used as a guideline for how long a pitcher should stay in a game.

It's on the screen all the time in every baseball game and every baseball team pretty much everywhere, starting in Little League, is very focused on this. And yet, when I was a kid pitch counts didn't even exist. In fact, pitch counts weren't invented as a stat until the late 1980s and they weren't officially a stat until 1999 and they've really only grown in prevalence in the last 10 years.

So for basically the first 100 years of baseball pitch counts didn't even exist. Now it is an obsession around the world. In some cases, the term pitch count is even used outside of baseball. For example, football players are said to be on a pitch count when there's a limited number of plays that they're going to be playing in a game, which is incredible when you think about it. This concept is a measurement going from non-excitement to obsession and has real implications on the work that we are doing at Holistic.

When you consider measurement, it’s best to divide the concept into three questions.

The first question is, can you measure it at all? How can you figure out a way to measure something? This is the fundamental element of measurement and this is what people are primarily focused on when they think about measurement. It’s binary, is it measurable?

One of the things that we hold dear at Holistic is that pretty much everything is measurable and that it's incumbent on us to figure out the best way of doing so. Once you give yourself over to the idea that everything is measurable it opens up huge amounts of opportunity for you. And in the nine short months of our company we have found innumerable things that we can measure that we didn't even think we were able to.

Second question: are you going to commit yourself to measuring it consistently?

When you go back to the example of pitch counts, the mechanisms have been built to measure them consistently and frequently. Every pitch is charted and so by definition the number of pitches is going to be completely accessible also. By displaying it on the screen and using it as a frequent indicator and creating rules and policies and procedures around it, the baseball world has committed that pitch counts is going to be a part of what it does, probably in perpetuity. It's the same for any measurement that you might take for your business.

Once you realize what the measurement is you still have to commit yourself to building the structure and support mechanism to measure it on an ongoing basis and to keep that data some place safe and accessible.

Last question, which is the most important question: what are you going to do with the measurement? How important are you going to make it? How much attention are you going to pay to it? This is the key point.

Focusing on how much emphasis you should give something actually provides a lot of freedom. In other words, a lot of folks who reject particular types of information do so because they feel concerned about what that data or information is going to tell them about what they need to do.

All of us have that opportunity to emphasize or deemphasize the things that we are looking at. There’s no standard recipe; if there was, it would be a lot easier. In an area like fostering diversity or inclusion, or focusing on employee experience, there are a lot of levers that can be pulled. And so there’s a lot of flexibility for officials to determine what they’re going to focus on. As a result, there’s a lot of debate also. Is it incumbent upon us to figure out everything that we possibly can measure, and gather those measurements. Then, and only then, are we well-suited to decide what we want to focus on and what we don’t want to focus on.

Once you decide to measure something you have the obligation to measure it forever. It is necessary. The question can never be: should we continue to measure it? The question should be: once we commit ourselves to measuring it, how are we going to use the information? How much relative importance is it going to have compared to every other measurement that we make and every other thing that we're doing? In other words, you don't have to necessarily ascribe the same value to the measurement over time or for every organization. These are levers that you can pull and change and evolve to make sure your business fits its particular needs and the needs of the time.

But the idea of not measuring something is ludicrous once you figure out a way to measure it easily, safely, and consistently. So with pitch counts you have to imagine a scenario where over time they are going to become less or more important. Right now they are on an arc where they've become extremely important and you can certainly see a scenario in the future where they become somewhat less important. But you can never imagine a scenario where they won't be measured. This is really the fundamental nature of the concept. Nothing last forever, trends change, the way people think about things evolve, etc.

This is an underpinning of what we're doing at Holistic. We're constantly in the process of trying to figure out new things to measure.

By the way, if you have some suggestions definitely reach out to us. We are always interested in ideas.

Tom AlexanderComment