“Metric Fixation” and its discontents

The Tyranny of Metrics

Here at Loup HQ we’ve been loving historian Jerry Z. Muller’s new book The Tyranny of Metrics, a well-researched take on our era’s obsession with metrics, key performance indicators, “transparency” and other buzzword-y aspects of managerial culture.

Calling it “Metric Fixation,” Muller critiques many of its underlying assumptions:

  • The belief that we can replace judgement — acquired through personal experience and talent — with numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data.
  • The belief that making these metrics public ensures institutions are carrying out their purpose
  • The belief that the best way to motivate the people in these organizations is to attach rewards (whether monetary or reputational) to their measured performance.

A few choice quotes:

What could be precisely measured tended to overshadow what was really important.

When metrics becomes the coin of the realm, to refuse it is to risk bankruptcy.

Metric fixation, which aspires to imitate science, too often resembles faith.