Dear Seth, Shouldn’t You Know if the Work You Do Matters?


Once again, Seth Godin’s blog got me thinking.

Today he wrote about how Scientific Management has evolved from the old Frederick Taylor (pictured above) days where the focus was on measuring the productivity of factory workers, to the focus today of measuring the productivity of white collar workers.

But Seth believes there’s a price to pay for all this measurement:

You will either be seen as a cog, or as a linchpin. You will either be measured in a relentless race to the bottom of the cost barrel, or encouraged in a supportive race to doing work that matters, that only you can do in your unique way.

Now I’m a huge Seth fan, and I’ve bought into his whole mindset of being willing to step outside your comfort zone, to do work that you think is important, of being an artist.

But sometimes I either disagree with some of the things he says and does, or perhaps sometimes I just don’t get what he is trying to say.

And that’s how I feel about his last statement in today’s blog:

It’s not easy to be the person who does unmeasurable work, but is there any doubt that it’s worth it?

I do not think it is possible to do work that is worth it, unless it can be measured.

Tom Peters (a former partner at McKinsey Consulting and author of In Search of Excellence, probably my favorite business book of all time) wrote an excellent post several years ago titled, “What Gets Measured Gets Done“. In the article Peters notes that he believes that this expression was the best business advice he ever heard. The idea that what gets measured gets done has been around for a long time, and I think the reason for its longevity is because it is true.

If you want to improve at something, whether it’s at running, at making widgets, or at making a difference, I think it’s important to have a baseline as a starting point. Without a baseline to compare against, how do you know if the work you are doing is leading to improvement, to making a difference?

So I agree with the first part of Seth’s closing line, that it probably isn’t easy to be the person who does unmeasureable work; in fact not being able to measure my contribution in some way would drive me crazy.

I think many of us want to not only feel like we are making a difference, but to know that we are making a difference. And the only way to know is to compare where we are today with where we were at a previous point in time.

After all, if we never measure our work, we may not be doing work that matters, work that makes a difference. And if we did discover that the work we were doing was not making a difference (using some type of measurement process), then we could look for ways to refocus our efforts, and to find a way to start doing work that matters.

Just because we are able to measure our work in some way does not make us a cog; in fact I think measuring our work enables us to become even more effective as a linchpin, and isn’t that what Seth’s nudging is all about?



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