When “The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time” was in the making, one of the questions we asked ourselves was, “How do you measure?How are we doing?” Joan Holliday and I both come from a background of Process and Continuous Improvement, she in Public Health and I in Industry. We know that you manage what you measure.
The difference between a professional and an amateur is an amateur doesn’t keep score. I always thought I was pretty good at this measurement thing, with my Industrial Engineering, Six Sigma and Benchmarking background and the healthcare industry has been thinking data through six ways from breakfast.
How are we doing? Do we measure the important stuff we do? And what is goodness? All impertinent questions with very pertinent answers.
Two things I learned from my father before I got my formal education in the area ofQuality Management are useful. He would say about a person; “He knows the price of everything and the value of very little.” Andthe second insight came when Dad shared the apocryphal story about coming home one night and seeing a man under a street light on his knees.Dad asked him what he was doing. The man said he dropped his keys and was trying to find them and Dad got down to help him look.
After a while he asked the guy, when did you have them last? And he said I was coming home to my house over there and I think they dropped out of my pocket as I came up to the front door. Dad said, “Well, why are you looking here?” And he said; “The light is better.” So, two things to keep in mind in measurement, the price of something and its value are not always the same and some things are easy to measure but they may not be the best measurement of success.
What I learned in this process is you can’t measure everything, so just measure the important stuff. IBM calls your measurements your 5- Ups because that is the most you can manage well. Another important measurement is your weight. With 37% of the population being clinically obese and another 32% being overweight, 2 out of 3 of us have unsatisfactory weight outcomes. Obesity is estimated to kill as many people in a year as the Corona virus will. Weight is an outcome metric, it is a combination of heredity, life style, metabolism, exercise and calorie intake.
Measuring the outcome of those factors doesn’t help you understand what you should be doing to get better. Thirty-five years ago, when I had gained 20 pounds, I tried to weigh myself to weigh less. Then I started keeping up with how much exercise I got (some have a goal of 10,000 steps) and was able to manage my weight with 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, or running 1,000 miles a year. But my metabolism is slowing down and the 30 minutes of exercise is not enough. I have to manage my calorie intake now. Portion control.
What are our important measurements of life? I guess it depends on what is important to each of us. My wife’s grandmother always told her; “When’ you’ve got your health, you’ve got just about everything.” This is a marketing slogan for a useless health supplement, but has some profound truth to it. As my father battled cancer, Parkinson’s, and brain surgery late in life, he developed an attitude of “may the best disease win.”
So what else is important? Some important things are very hard to measure, like happiness, and I don’t even try. But a sustainable financial future is worth the effort. Do we have enough money to retire? For most young Americans the answer is “no.”Are we reducing our debt this year or adding to it? Our net worth doesn’t define our value to the world like some people think. It just isn’t true that the person who dies with the most toys wins. But we have to be very clever to live wellbeing poor and we all should look at maintaining some level of a sustainable income through our 80’s. This is really hard as one of my wise friends Bob Silber told me – “I plan through 85 and then the County gets me.”
The next area is the important stuff like family, church and friends. It takes work to stay in touch with our friends. Are we doing that work? What are we doing to nurture our spiritual journey in life? Do we mentor young people? I’m notJoe Biden who has 25 people he helps with their stuttering, but I do keep track of the people I can help.
The next area I have found useful to trackis the fun I get out of life. To me that is travel, film, TV, radio and books. So, are we reading what we want to have read on our bucket list? Do we have a bucket list of things we want to do?
In this time of a pandemic we measure the number of cases and the deaths per 100,000. Chester County is still leading South Korea, which has 100 times the population, in deaths (356-324).This tells us how we are doing. That is the ultimate outcome metric of a pandemic. But how are we doing at social distancing and wearing masks? How are we doing at knowing who is sick and who isn’t;at staying home and keeping out of harm’s way? Are the kids getting better at computer and distance learning?
In most of these cases, what is important is not how good or bad we are but how effectivelywe are atgetting better. And we don’t know unless we measure.