Losing sight

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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2009-02-07 15:01:45

It seems to me that people often lose sight of their goals. This happens particularly when their goal isn't easily quantifiable or measurable, so instead of focusing on the goal itself, they focus on some indicator that is measurable. This is a reasonable approach, since it allows you to work towards the goal and measure progress. However, the problem is that they forget to make sure that their indicator remains a valid indicator of the goal as they make progress. Inevitably the indicator is no longer representative of the progress, and yet they continue along the path the indicator indicates.

Consider the following examples:

  • The police have a goal of increasing public safety. This is hard to measure directly, so instead they use the indicator of putting criminals in jail. This is easily measurable, and is an indicator of public safety. At least at first. Once they forget their goal was public safety, they start locking people up left and right for the most trivial things. Taken to the extreme, everybody ends up in jail and the "public" is safe. But that's not really a desirable outcome.
  • Managers have a goal of increasing employee productivity. Again, hard to measure directly. Some of them use hours spent working as an indicator of productivity. Makes sense, no? But only upto a point. After that point, increasing hours worked decreases productivity.
  • Athletes want to be in good physical shape. Fitness is hard to measure. However, walk into any gym and look around - everything has numbers for you to measure your progress. If you start lifting weights, the max weight you lift becomes your indicator. If you continue down that path and forget about your original goal, you end up becoming decidedly unfit (think bodybuilders).
  • People in general want to be happy. Happiness is pretty darn hard to measure. Initially, a good way to be happy is to be able to do what you want, which requires money. Therefore, your disposable income is an indicator of happiness. But how happy are the ultra-rich? Past a certain point having more money just weighs you down.

The list goes on. There's lots of goals that people work towards every day, but can't directly measure. It's fine to use an indicator, just remember that every so often you need to throw out your indicator and find one that better reflects your goal at the level you're at.

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