I read a nice post from Tim Kastelle today about the problem with metrics. Over-reliance on stats is something I’ve blogged about here before and it continues to bother me, particularly as we live in a country where we seem to have become obsessed with measurability and stats of any kind. As a result, it feels like we are losing the ability to make decisions on any criteria other than numbers, and often dodgy numbers at that.
Of course, one of the glories of internet marketing is that it’s measurable.Unlike traditional offline advertising, the indisputable facts are there in all their Google Analytics glory. Click through rates, conversion rates, shopping cart drop-out rates. It worked, it didn’t work. It produced X pounds-worth of business which equates to a XX% return on investment.
Things have got a little fuzzier now that the web has gone all social. For heaven’s sake! Just when we’d got everyone chanting the ‘online is measurable’ mantra, along come the humans, messing with technology and making it all a bit, well, more human. Now we’re all arguing about the value of a Facebook friend and clamouring for algorithms to measure online influence.
Why do we need to measure everything in this way? Humans are capable of great wisdom, of calling on their experience, using their judgement in astonishingly sophisticated ways, far beyond the crude crunching of numbers. If we exclude all that cannot be measured, replicated or extracted to a common denominator, aren’t we in danger of making gross generalisations and even terrible mistakes?
Iain McGilchrist in his sublime The Master and His Emissary argues that how we make sense of the world around us depends on a delicate tension between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and he illustrates how in the West our culture has reflected this tension, played out on an evolutionary scale.
According to McGilchrist, our elevation of (and reliance on) physical evidence, measurable data and that which can be proved to be true is symptomatic of left-brain dominance and a worrying imbalance between the hemispheres.
Are we too reliant on stats? Have we elevated science to such a level that we no longer value the things that used to hold equally good: wisdom, experience, the subtleties of human judgement? Or worse still, have we perverted scientific method to such an extent that we prefer to invent measures and stats simply to avoid admitting ‘we don’t know’?