That Time of the Year Again
By frank.buytendijk on Sep 27, 2009
(*) Warning. Contains Irony.
It's that time of the year again. Running season. Every year I write in my blog on my jogging efforts. Yesterday I ran the "Singel loop" in the City of Utrecht ("Singel loop" does not translate as "single loop"! Loop = Run, Singel = a canal surrounding a city), a 10km run.
Last year in my blog I used this run as an example of how measurement can tell you anything you want. Last year:
• I improved my personal record for the 10K (great!)
• ... as no. 570 I came in last anyway (hmmm... not so great)
• ... but the system didn't register the people who gave up and never finished (at least I did!)
• I started front row, and came in last, so I must have seen every single runner (social indicator?)
While running yesterday, I found some other examples in running that help understand the subjectiveness of measurement. (Yes, measurement is far from objective!)
Everything is relative
KPIs are used to express one measure of success against a certain base, like revenue per employee. A great way to fluff up your performance. In my case, if I correct my time of 1 hour 16 minutes (1:16) with my overweight, it compares to running 10k in about 1 hour, which is really not bad! Also, it was hot. Does that count for something, comparing performance to other occassions in better circumstances?
I use the Nike+ system that counts every step and sends the data to my iPod. Distance, speed, etc. is based on the average step-size. I reckon the system has about a 7.5% margin of error. So when my measurement system said I did run 10km, I still had 750 meters to go. According my definition of 10 kilometer, I did that in about 1:11, which is nicely on target of what I usually run. And as long as that is the only system of measurement, it is fine as long as the margin of error is consistent. One measures improvement (or not), even if the basis is wrong. So in a sense I did make my target of 1:11, as it was based on a different system of measurement.
Measurement tells you about the person measuring
Measuring a subject itself already causes a change in behavior of the subject. Also, any measurement system shows the hand of the person measuring. Choice of metrics (objectives), or relative position (from where was something measured). For instance, I measured that in the beginning of the run I was mostly overtaken by men. Later on, I measured I was mostly overtaken by women. What does that tell? That on average men run faster than women. But it also tells you something about me. I don't run terribly fast (in fact, I was amongst the last to finish).
Rhythm helps driving performance
I have been writing many times about how quarterly closings are a completely artificial event, that should not impact discounts, etc. The shoemaker charges the same price for fixing your shoes, whether it is March 31st, or April 1st. However, I have noticed there is something to be said for a periodic pace of business. A rhythm helps. I noticed that one song particularly (Eminem - Lose Yourself) kept me going. The rhythm was perfect, it gave me energy and the beat really drove me forward.
My time this year was worse than last year, when I ran the race in 1:14. Then again, I didn't train that much, as I have spent most evening and weekend hours on writing on my new book. Ironically enough, the book is on dilemmas. So is this a dilemma? Spending time on writing versus time on training? The book actually argues it is important to find the and/and situation. How can you do both at the same time? Being so energized working on the book that I automatically run more as well? Alas, practice turned out to be different. Time truly has proven to be a constraint. Then again, synergy was achieved, I did come up with the content for this blog while running...
Lastly, measurement is about learning, closing the loop. That means this blog is about learning how to learn, which in terms of Argyris and Schoen is called 'double loop' learning. Another reason why "singelloop" doesn't translate as "single loop"...