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The Tyranny of Metrics

Written by: Jerry Z. Muller
Narrated by: Matthew Josdal
Length: 5 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

How the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we've gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. 

In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing and shows how we can begin to fix the problem. Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging "gaming the stats" or "teaching to the test". That's because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. 

Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn't work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to - rather than a replacement for - judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial. Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.

©2018 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Tantor

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  • Brian K. Sohn
  • 2018-10-23

Managers, Politicians, Please Read This!

As Muller says, there's nothing new here except for his cross-disciplinary compiling of how the use of metrics, accountability, and transparency are fulfilling Illich's promise that institutions eventually grow to a point where they counteract their original purpose. His use of tyranny is no exaggeration. Beginning with the personal story of how metrics ruined his work as a university department head, he follows the line through policing, medicine, schooling, and politics.

In my dream world, I could dump the information contained in this book into the heads of all the managers and politicians out there to counteract the terrible zeitgeist of measurement as the tool of bureaucratic decentralization.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Theo
  • 2019-03-13

Good book, Mediocre reading

Josdal uses the British pronunciation of the word "organization" (organ EYES ation) for some reason - and the word appears very often. As far as I remember, that's the only "British-ism", and he certainly doesn't have a British accent, so it is somewhat jarring. But that's not the worst. He has an uncanny knack for vocally emphasizing the wrong words and pausing in odd places. This is hard to capture in print, so I won't bother to try; but I found it disconcerting.

As to the book itself, I found it quite compelling. As someone with a technical background, I find myself relying on and advocating for the use of quantitative methods frequently, so I was prepared to find fault with Muller's thesis. However, I will say that a more descriptive if less catchy title might have been, "The Tyranny of the Misuse of Metrics". The last chapter is a (too) brief description of what makes a good metric, and how to their misuse. I wish those ideas had been sprinkled more throughout the earlier sections, and not just relegated to the end. But if this is subject you care about, this book is worth reading.

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  • SafetyChuck
  • 2019-03-07

Good book outlining a major problems

So I enjoyed the book and the problems surrounding using metrics to judge performance. However, discussion of alternatives or other methods are lacking.

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  • Tim Acker
  • 2019-02-22

Opportunity Missed

Full disclosure: I'm a metrics evangelist. I listened to this book to challenge my world view. It did that. But having set up the perils of misapplying metrics, I was ready for the author to provide the principles of metrics properly applied along with examples of times when such applications made all the difference. Instead he pulled up short. Too bad. He could have titled the book, "Metrics - Don't Bother." Don't consume this book without also taking in something like,"Prove It" by Stacey Barr and "How to Measure Anything" by Doug Hubbard. Then make up your own mind.