we measure more because of fear


“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

Tim Ferriss


“I await with patience a catastrophe that is slow in coming.”

Albert Camus


Have you ever noticed that in business when someone says “go big or go home’ someone else will immediately attempt to break it down into measurable components? Well. That’s fear.

Fear drives us to make things smaller. What do I mean? ‘Bigness’ is to be feared so we “break things down into measurable components”, i.e., “small”, to eliminate fear (under the guise of driving objective driven results). While seemingly smart, its actually dumb. It puts you on a results treadmill which, when stopped, brings everything crashing down.

It like what Zach Mercurio says, “live by results, die by results”, in which once you have made things small the only thing people fear is not making the “goal” … over and over and over again.

But the more important issue is this fear separates. This type of fear attempts to be “anti-systems” in that it attempts to defy systems thinking that improving a part does not improve the whole and that you need to work the system, not the parts, to optimize the whole. Everything gets compounded by a growing attitude that the more you actually BELIEVE things are separated, and better separated, the less you are actually part of reality. In other words, you separate yourself from the reality of connectedness. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this separation also applies to measurement of self. Time sheets, accounting for activities, project lists to be checked off – at home counting calories, timed runs, etc. each ‘separate’ activity looks and feels healthy and important when isolated but, in its isolation, it ignores the connectivity to other things on which success is dependent. And we wonder why shit doesn’t happen? And we wonder why we fear attempting anything? If we break things down, separate, the pieces and parts may meet some random objective, but that objective becomes meaningless in the greater whole of things (reality) as important other things aren’t done or reality, in its wholeness, is more important than the individual part separated out.

Regardless. All of this simply ignores the bigger issue – fear of big, seemingly uncontrollable, often difficult to measure, rarely obvious cause/effect, impossible to predict, things (the things that actually drive business success).

And while that last sentence I just offered will generate a lot of agreement, everything prior will sound crazy to productivity-focused people who believe there has to be extrinsic guidance or people will never be ‘maximized’ or optimized if they aren’t ‘challenged” by some stretch goal <i.e., something measured>. They see each separate objective as a whole in and of itself. They see separation as a way to meet the “whole’s needs”. They see the path to success in having ‘leaders’ lead separated parts (teams) to challenge other teams in achieving a larger vision. Inevitably they will warp separation into some coherence story in which the guiding light on the hill is the grander company vision.

The aggressive pursuit of a specific short term effort cloaks fear of pursuing something bigger.

This fear is driven by a desire to rationalize. I believe organizational design experts call this “rationalizing organizations.” Rationalizing organizations exhibit a tendency towards hierarchies, reductionism and the maximization of efficiency, predictability, quantification (measurement, milestones, results) and control. Well. That does sound rational, doesn’t it? All organizations desire efficiency, plan against some predictability, like to measure results, and control as much as is possible. Each, in and of itself, sounds quite reasonable. It even sounds like the most manageable way to manage large quantities of work and complex business dynamics (making sure things get done when they need to get done, resources applied when they need to get applied (or used, and things get to market when they need to get to market). The problem is it is reductionist and therefore shrinks potential, condenses opportunities and actually scales down the organization. This problem gets compounded by the fact if each separate part is chugging along there will always be some dashboard with some asshat standing next to it suggesting the business is actually scaling up to market needs – but its not. its not scaling at all. It is simply meeting condensed objectives and, well, smallness. But in that smallness, fear is diminished and confidence increases. It increases confidence in, well, task completion. And encourages the business to increase the # of tasks. And, in general, that could be a good thing, but, in general, it simply means output is always proportional to input and by measuring you ensure the input is always proportional to the output outlined. Yeah. Read that again. It’s a doom loop of measurement logic. It is reductionist business management in a dynamic market begging for expansive ideas and doing.

And while what I wrote may sound harsh in its critique, to a rationalizing organization it sounds, well, rational. It attempts to make trying to make systems, inputs, outputs, and even people, behave deterministically.

But there is an even more insidious aspect to this fear-based productivity thinking. The rationalizing organization convinces themselves by doing business this way people will be happier. Yeah. In business we are infamous for creating tangible milestones and objectives and in doing so we expect people to be emotionally invested in achieving the ‘thing to do’. Its kind of like the industrialization of happiness. Personally, I think its nuts. It is simply shit that needs to be done and the organization is cranking out that shit how they deem best for the business – not people.

The reality is a business driven by this type of fear, separates to create priorities (under the guise of efficiency and predictability). I can almost guarantee every rationalizing organization has a fantabulous vision but they have decided people will not really know how to get there on their own so they, inevitably, create a separate priority to replace the vision.

This can even get compounded into a worse space when each ‘separate’ thing is communicated as ‘the main thing we need to do.’ Created main things, if you are not careful, are rabbit holes. You can follow a created main thing as persistently & stubbornly as if it is a real main thing and end up in a really really bad place.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out managers in rationalizing businesses are infamous for creating ‘main things.’

What these managers don’t realize is that their employees see right thru the created aspect. Far too many times managers step back saying things like “I don’t have the right people to implement the important objectives’ or the ones with good intentions focus on the wrong things like ‘I need to learn how to motivate my people’ <only to implement some of the wackiest motivational shit you will ever see>. Not enough times managers don’t look in the mirror at the actual stimulus, the identified separated ‘main thing’, and truly challenge whether it really is a ‘main thing’ rather than simply a business objective we need to attain for the good of the business.

Let me suggest that, in general, embracing an ‘outcome is the most important’ Life philosophy is a slippery slope. A ‘destination-based business model’ <continuous objectives, goals, targets> is simply putting your people, and business, in cage after cage after cage, all under the assumption by doing so your business will fly.

This is nuts.

Which, finally, leads me to the root of the fear: abstract versus tangible

Infinite is abstract. Finite is tangible. Unless you can tether the infinite with some narrative, some vision, some story, some metaphor, running a business with an infinite mindset is going to feel a lot like chaos. And it may actually be (although it may not be in that there are other surrounding principles which permits the organization to act in a coherent way).

Another abstract versus tangible aspect is value. Now. Most businesses do not discuss finite versus infinite in terms of Finite value versus Infinite value. They should.

In business Finite value can most often be found in maximizing a transaction (between purchaser and enterprise) – maximizing present value.

Infinite value can most often be defined in maximizing a life (of a business enterprise) – maximizing future value.


In the end.

While we cannot control the future, we can certainly control the conditions of how the future we want is constructed. This is actually probabilities management, not goals management (kind of the business version of “push versus pull” marketing strategy). That said. Business generally defies most planning (finite management) and embraces ‘smart strategic opportunistic” behavior (potential management). Yes. There has to be an artful balance of finite, self-interest/transactional, and infinite – the larger greater good, i.e., “self-interest cannot be separated in the long run from the interests of the business.” A good business demands a buy in between the individual and the collective wherein the individual ‘self authors’ (autopoietic) with an accepted vision of the larger group so that all decisions & actions remain coherent.

** Note: Autopoietic – self authoring.  Business is emergent in that people self-author their own definitions of success and self-narrative versus business establishing the definitions with which an individual should judge themselves (and be judged).

** Note: Autopoiesis (from Greek αὐτo- (auto-), meaning ‘self’, and ποίησις (poiesis), meaning ‘creation, production’) refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. The original definition can be found in Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living (1st edition 1973, 2nd 1980)

Look. There is a difference between analytics and measurement. Analytics are the science behind a business success <measurement is the use of analytics>. Attitudinal is the art behind a business success. In my mind I lay both these pillars down and when I can figure out how to make them coincide <not remain separate> I believe the company/product/service has maximized value. Once again, not separate, but whole. Solely focusing on analytics, through measurement, is always tempting because it shows some aspect of ‘cause & effect’, but it also has a nasty habit of driving a business into focusing on ‘the tallest midget’ aspects of building a business <and it is absolutely short-term management>. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out here that discovery is actually the measurement.

Anyway. The truth is people, to be at their best, need to have some core consistency (passion, vision, character, what is valued, whatever), some finiteness, in order to be free enough in the infinite universe to be successful. Not to get too philosophical, but a successful business is always a fragile balancing act between being independent from the external environment and actually of the external environment. In other words, balancing the finite and infinite. Business demands not only recognition of the finite (some measurement) versus infinite aspects of business itself (some unmeasurable), but, most importantly, also the people who make the business work.


Business will find none of what I just suggested by measuring everything.



“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Stephen Chbosky


Written by Bruce