Wednesday, March 11, 2009

measuring the immeasurable: cues from basketball

I've been keeping a running list of things that have been traditionally hard to measure that have witnessed recent breakthroughs. Some of my favorites include:

- Valuing intangible assets
- Assessing the merit of scholarships
- Measuring love
- Quantifying a restaurant's success

I added basketball a few weeks ago, after reading Michael Lewis' article about Shane Battier, the new age of statistical analysis in the NBA and the challenge to "measure the right things."
For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure - points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots-- and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game.
Sound familiar? Reminds me of the warped perception of the value of visitors and page views; Influence via followers.

This 'new age of statistical analysis', which, in the article, you see has transformed all major sports, foreshadows social business: everything that can be measured will be.

Thus begins the quest for true indicators of success. More than ever, we have the opportunity to move beyond the black box or to use a sports analogy, box score, to measure the right things- that really lead to coordination and success.

One critical difference is a shift from individual influencers (superstars) to team efficacy, as Mark Cuban points out,
...these numbers don’t reflect necessarily the best players in the league, but what they do reflect is the players that are being best put in a position to succeed and are delivering.
It's funny the extent to which this mirrors the Gladwell vs. Watts meme. I couldn't be more ready for the Influence influenza to be over.

So how do we move beyond points, rebounds, and assists?

Peter Kim talked about the 4 parts of social business transformation:
  • Systems thinking and design
  • Human Resource management
  • Process re-engineering
  • Technology infrastructure
This offers a nice framework from which to begin measuring the enterprise; one that's consistent with the basketball analogy:
  • System - Business goals. In business as in basketball, the score of the game will never cease to be important.
  • People - Participation and social awareness. In a team sport, your awareness of the additional players on the field/court is vital. The best team players are praised for their court vision.
  • Process- Dynamic, ongoing communication. Sean Bottier is said to talk to his teammates a lot more than anyone else on the court. Constant communication helps teammates anticipate plays and mutually benefit from each individual's work.
  • Technology - Connections. Reciprocal, one-way, maintained communication... In basketball, this would have to be the medium itself: the court. An invisible, but critical conduit.
Social constructs have been hard to both articulate and measure in the enterprise, but this framework should offer some help figuring out what to measure and how.

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