Tag Archives: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's adventures in metricsland

I was looking for something else entirely when I ran into this sequence from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Since I was thinking about metrics at work around that time, the correlation seemed obvious to me. I think we've all been there if we have to get our work performance measured: the boss wants you measure something, measure anything, just bring a number or, better yet, a chart with the line pointing up and to the right.

Is that the thing you should be measuring? Is that value you're tracking meaningful? Helpful? Is it going to be gamed by your workers because they know that it's (a) neither meaningful nor helpful and (b) they get rewarded if it points up and to the right and punished if it doesn't? Oh, you bet it will. And, in a sense, it should. It's a Catch-22. Only insane people would behave as if an insane system is sane, whereas deviation is a sign of sanity.

A quip from Marilyn Strathern (the de facto version of Goodhart's Law): "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

Here's the part I was originally looking for because I think it's also project related:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”