Measure What Matters to Customers

Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943

In the sixteenth century, a new word appeared in English dictionaries—pantometry, which means universal measurement. Ever since, humans have been obsessed with counting things, from people and sheep to the number of cars imported and the number of McDonald’s hamburgers served. Being able to count and measure is one of the traits separating man from animals. The thoughts of Scottish mathematician and physicist Lord Kelvin (1824–1907), are inscribed—slightly inaccurately—in the stones of the Social Science Building at the University of Chicago:

When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind. … It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.

(McCloskey 2000: 80)

The problem for the pantometrists is the same one facing businesspeople today: What should be measured? Facts and figures do not provide a context, or reveal ...

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