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Publisher's Summary

How the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we've gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. 

In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing and shows how we can begin to fix the problem. Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging "gaming the stats" or "teaching to the test". That's because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. 

Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn't work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to - rather than a replacement for - judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial. Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.

©2018 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Tantor

What listeners say about The Tyranny of Metrics

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Opportunity Missed

Full disclosure: I'm a metrics evangelist. I listened to this book to challenge my world view. It did that. But having set up the perils of misapplying metrics, I was ready for the author to provide the principles of metrics properly applied along with examples of times when such applications made all the difference. Instead he pulled up short. Too bad. He could have titled the book, "Metrics - Don't Bother." Don't consume this book without also taking in something like,"Prove It" by Stacey Barr and "How to Measure Anything" by Doug Hubbard. Then make up your own mind.

12 people found this helpful

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Terrible narration

I've returned this title and will buy the Kindle version. I could not understand the narrator because his emphasis was so strange. I didn't know where a sentence began and ended.

3 people found this helpful

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Managers, Politicians, Please Read This!

As Muller says, there's nothing new here except for his cross-disciplinary compiling of how the use of metrics, accountability, and transparency are fulfilling Illich's promise that institutions eventually grow to a point where they counteract their original purpose. His use of tyranny is no exaggeration. Beginning with the personal story of how metrics ruined his work as a university department head, he follows the line through policing, medicine, schooling, and politics.

In my dream world, I could dump the information contained in this book into the heads of all the managers and politicians out there to counteract the terrible zeitgeist of measurement as the tool of bureaucratic decentralization.

2 people found this helpful

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Apply this to scientism.

I apply this book to the scientific method. Of course God exists. Just not to be found in the scientific method.

1 person found this helpful

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Great book and information - narration is a bit robotic

Great book and information - narration is a bit robotic, though. Verified a lot of gut feelings I had about the problems with metrics.

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Good book, Mediocre reading

Josdal uses the British pronunciation of the word "organization" (organ EYES ation) for some reason - and the word appears very often. As far as I remember, that's the only "British-ism", and he certainly doesn't have a British accent, so it is somewhat jarring. But that's not the worst. He has an uncanny knack for vocally emphasizing the wrong words and pausing in odd places. This is hard to capture in print, so I won't bother to try; but I found it disconcerting.

As to the book itself, I found it quite compelling. As someone with a technical background, I find myself relying on and advocating for the use of quantitative methods frequently, so I was prepared to find fault with Muller's thesis. However, I will say that a more descriptive if less catchy title might have been, "The Tyranny of the Misuse of Metrics". The last chapter is a (too) brief description of what makes a good metric, and how to their misuse. I wish those ideas had been sprinkled more throughout the earlier sections, and not just relegated to the end. But if this is subject you care about, this book is worth reading.

1 person found this helpful

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Oddly Incurious

There is a value in the core mission statement of this book - to debunk our over-reliance on metrics and statistics to make decisions in lieu of trusting properly informed experts. In this regard, the book is successful and should earn 5 stars.

However, I have to dock points for a few reasons.

One, he’s strangely incurious about the presence, causes, or solutions to other factors that don’t involve metrics. And two, he generally treats metric culture as a recent development. Both of these fall short when he presents a few scenarios that involve citing data that is flawed due to hundred-year-old biases or other systemic issues.

Because of that, more than once he presents the idea that people of different races have different outcomes but completely fails to acknowledge that this is due to other, larger issues.

Which leads to a moment where a doctor he cites casually implied that POC suffer from a higher rate of infant mortality due to potential genetic differences and the author does not call him out for being racist or citing hundred-year-old pseudo science.

So yeah I have to dock a few stars for that.

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One of the best book I have ever read

The tone and pitch of the voice, the believability of the reader, the accents, and the overall pleasing sound of the voice kept me captivated. Now I know the meaning and the fondamental of metrics. This book is a great gift to give to a teacher, doctor or preceptor.I will read this book again!

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A dry topic that is put into every day terms

Metrics can be used for progress or for maintaining the status quo. It has different use cases to bring light to how metrics can be abused.

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The perfect intro to a non-existent Part 2

Maybe my expectations were too high or I didnt read the description well enough. My assumption is if you're interested in this book it's because you already have an issue with and a mindset that your business or environment is over-metrics-ed. The book presented a lot of good examples of when and where metrics go wrong. Some of them I already knew of, some I didnt. They were truly interesting and I enjoyed learning more about them. However, my issue is that the book fails to answer the question "now what?". Some references to favoring experience over pure metrics or not using metrics at all were either totally obvious or unhelpful. Discussion of involving those you're measuring in coming up with the measurements to ensure buy in was important and interesting, but too little attention was given to it - just one example and a general recommendation to do it. Would have been better to explore that with more case studies and examples. I already know theres an issue with too many metrics, and probably so do you if you're looking at this book. Tell me how to fix that or do it in a more useful manner. Perhaps that's too much to ask, but hence the disappointment.

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  • Setright
  • 05-05-22

On the money

Fixation on metrics is a big problem and this concise book explains why.

The only thing missing is how to get your boss to reqd and understand it.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-02-22

as if an artificial intelligence is reading to you

the book is a bit conservative contentwise. but i can handle that. one of the reasons you read is to confront yourself with different points of view. but the way this book was read was so unbelievably bad . i just could not take it anymore and bought a paper version instead. like the computer voices you sometimes hear on tiktok. no intonation. no feel for when a sentence ends or starts. no bridge between quote and regular text. no clue if the guy was just badly reading again or if he was reading or a heading or sub heading . had to return it.

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  • Ixxy
  • 05-31-21

Nothing Ground-breaking

The main premise is "Metrics drive dysfunctional behaviour", then goes on to show why this is true in a list of different sectors. I bought this as was curious about my sector but the it was so general. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a place for metrics. Which you choose to measure and the way you introduce it to your community makes all the difference.

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  • Neryl
  • 05-06-18

Metric’s answers

This book has enabled me to understand the discomfort that I have felt for years around the disconnection between the collection of measurements and the valuing of experience and knowledge. Thank you Jerry!

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