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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

What listeners say about The Tyranny of Metrics

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unable to finish this book, narrator is horribe

I can't listen to this robotic voice for another minute, I will have to return the book since I can't follow along for more than a minute at a time before my mind wanders away to anything and everything that might be remotely interesting. Awful...just awful.

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Brevity is the soul of wit

Muller not only made his point, he beat it to death with a sledgehammer. Matthew Josdal is a good narrator, though, so it was tolerable.

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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.

7 people found this helpful

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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.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-12-20

Terrible narration

I've returned this title and will buy the Kindle version. I could not understand the narrator because his emphasis was so strange. I didn't know where a sentence began and ended.

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  • N. Skachkov
  • 2021-02-07

The perfect intro to a non-existent Part 2

Maybe my expectations were too high or I didnt read the description well enough. My assumption is if you're interested in this book it's because you already have an issue with and a mindset that your business or environment is over-metrics-ed. The book presented a lot of good examples of when and where metrics go wrong. Some of them I already knew of, some I didnt. They were truly interesting and I enjoyed learning more about them. However, my issue is that the book fails to answer the question "now what?". Some references to favoring experience over pure metrics or not using metrics at all were either totally obvious or unhelpful. Discussion of involving those you're measuring in coming up with the measurements to ensure buy in was important and interesting, but too little attention was given to it - just one example and a general recommendation to do it. Would have been better to explore that with more case studies and examples. I already know theres an issue with too many metrics, and probably so do you if you're looking at this book. Tell me how to fix that or do it in a more useful manner. Perhaps that's too much to ask, but hence the disappointment.

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  • Matthew M.
  • 2021-02-01

Half the truth

This is an interesting idea for a book, but the introduction paragraph sets out exactly where it fails. It has no underlying economic theory except that capitalism should be working, and this recent trend of metric-driven performance rewards is skewing things. The author doesn't seem to consider that maybe this is liberalism at its finest, trying to preserve capitalism with false metrics.

Also it's pretty irredeemable that the book argues for less transparency at the end. No, don't show us more of out corrupt politicians. That forces them to be two-faced.

You might think I'm being hyperbolic by this summary of the last chapter. I'm really not.

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  • joshua
  • 2020-11-29

Apply this to scientism.

I apply this book to the scientific method. Of course God exists. Just not to be found in the scientific method.

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  • Shannon L Stewart
  • 2019-07-30

Great book and information - narration is a bit robotic

Great book and information - narration is a bit robotic, though. Verified a lot of gut feelings I had about the problems with metrics.

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  • Rob Gray
  • 2019-07-10

Jumps to conclusions

This is a very thought provoking book for a person like me who loves to collect and analyze data. While the author makes many great points regarding when and how to use metrics appropriately he appears to jump to many conclusions without presenting any facts to back them up. I believe that the author may be mistaken in his assertion that “not everything can be measured” - this may be technically accurate but, given enough thought, one can find valid proxies for practically anything (with the help of experts in the field being measured)

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  • Brett R Adams
  • 2019-06-14

Great brain food

The world needs more of these concepts. I hope that other research will expand upon this.

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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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  • Anonymous User
  • 2021-05-04

Illuminating

Concise and erudite. Show the problems with great context and in many situations. Have the benefit of not being another "5 steps to success", just a study, that acknoledge the good and the bad, given a current goal. The title can be misleading : it's not an attack on metrics, but on metrics used without good method.