Numbers are meaningless…

…unless they are the right numbers. Google “Oil Spill Flow Rate” and you’ll see that most of the results on the first few pages are from major news sources. All of the articles along with hours of televised news stories are spending an inordinate amount of time debating what the flow rate is from the Deep Horizon oil rig accident. To what end? What behavior change will occur or what activity change will take place if the flow rate is nailed down in accuracy?

Discussions about numbers like these trivialize valuable data. I find it ironic that governmental agencies are heavily vested in determining a more accurate estimate of this oil spill flow rate number. Packages of food are legally allowed to be labeled “Zero Trans Fat” even though there is trans fat present. It just has to be less than 0.5 grams per serving to earn the Zero label. The amount of trans fat can be indisputably measured but it can legally be misrepresented so why is the Gulf oil spill flow rate so important?

Metrics and measures we use in business are often similarly just for show. We waste valuable resources chasing down and aggregating data that is just used to demonstrate how much work we’ve done or to display results that are in no way tied to strategy or action plans. Or is in no way used to make decisions or plan future activities.

So before you start debating the flow rate ask yourself what actions you’ll take or modify based on the estimate. If you don’t have a good answer don’t worry about the amount of flow rate and focus your efforts on an activity that accomplishes what you really want. The amount of the oil spill flow rate is meaningless because the only acceptable value is zero. Really zero.

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