Quantified Performance and the Human Spirit

Watching the Olympics can be heart wrenching.  A lifetime of disciplined effort by the athletes can hinge on 1/100 th of a second.  A fraction of a tick and you don’t hear your anthem. You might think that such cold mechanics of the clock would crush the human spirit.  That years of concentration and determination to be validated by a number on a scoreboard would seem silly or absurd.  And yet, it seems, that we humans thrive under this type of quantification.

It’s competition and it drives us.  It’s hardwired humanity. I see it everywhere – schools, jobs, sports, and websites.

I’m not against measuring time like this, but I am curious.  I know that it wasn’t always so.  The clock – and all that mechanical, quantitative  data – didn’t take hold of civilization until a few hundred years ago.  Generation upon generation lived and died without once ever checking the time against something other than the tide, sun or season.  Sometime – around the time of recorded history –  someone divided the seasons into months. The months into days. Days into hours and … eventually, seconds into 100ths of seconds.

And, ONE of those 100ths of a second makes the difference between Gold and Silver, victory and defeat…

The Olympics

Quite possibly the best reason to split a life into little units to be measured  is the Olympics.  Why?  because competition and the exquisitely precise quantification  leads to the most amazing and beautiful feats of human performance.  Is is petty? Is it silly? It’s freakin’ amazing.

Take for example, Rebecca Soni who swam 200 meters breaststroke in 2min and 20 seconds.  That time broke a world record – her own actually.  Let’s not even discuss how incredibly hard this is to achieve… When Soni was asked about it directly after the race, she said “I wish it was faster”

The moral of the story

Once you start measuring, you will want to improve.  I believe this is a fundamental and universal truth, based on my experience. It’s this way in sport, just like in web analytics.  Once you know your visitor count or your bounce rate, you will want to improve that ‘score’.

So, be careful what you measure.  Measure wisely.  Measure creatively.  Measure with a grain of salt.  Measure humbly.  Measure what matters.  Measure what doesn’t matter (just in case).  Measure for fun.  Measure for understanding.  Measure for clarity.

For what it’s worth – thanks for reading

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