This blog draws on the work of The Growth Delusion by David Pilling and follows on from an earlier blog exploring his challenge to the notion of economic growth entitled Relentless Growth – in what universe is that healthy?
Part of exploring the premise of economic growth has to prompt the question of, how will we know that we are successful? There is a strong link between how we understand, and have come to value, economic growth and how we measure it in Gross Domestic Product terms (GDP). Pilling explores the origins and impact of GDP and poses a great question – what would GDP be like if it was a personality? He suggests that some traits include that it likes damaging the environment because it costs money to clean it up and it likes wars because of the production of guns! Nothing can be done, he argues, if it is seen to damage the economy as determined by the priesthood of economists.
For Pilling, the economy is a figment of our imaginations and as a society we have come to a point where we need to redefine what it is that we mean by our economy, and therefore how we measure it.
He suggests that defenders of GDP would say that it never meant to measure everything. For example, happiness. What we have done, however, is create economic growth as the first amongst equals, as it determines everything else that we are doing. So, in many senses it is the one uniting premise that the world organises around. It then requires of us to create all kinds of other concepts and paradigms to cope with the negative impacts of this belief in the pursuit of endless growth.
The author is challenging us to stop looking at GDP only, and start looking at Wealth. One of the starting points of which is to look at natural wealth and a contract between generations to ensure that each generation hands on the equivalent natural wealth to the next. The challenges he poses about GDP mirror the challenges I have been bringing to organisations about Key Performance Indicators – and inviting them to consider the notion of Key Performance Insights.
The notion of Key Performance Insights is something that I am working on with Treehouse Analytics under the umbrella concept of Questions of Data. We are exploring how we use a combination of affirmatively disruptive questions and data to shift the thinking from Key Performance Indicators to Key Performance Insights. As our actions not only go in the direction we question them but also in the direction we measure them. GDP, like KPIs, fail to track what is really important to us let alone provide us with the insights we need to assess our progress and course-correct as necessary.
Effectively turning information into shared knowledge and better insights comes from the questions we ask of the data and of ourselves:
- Does your organisation work with an accessible, shared knowledge on the key drivers to performance? – the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’
- Do you have to corral data from across the organisation to tell different parts of the performance story? – a story possibly even told in different ways
- Is your investment in data 80:20 imbalanced towards capturing, holding and shaping; away from leveraging it to drive outcomes?
- What conversations could your executive be having if all data points were presented through the same insight lens?
- How is knowledge shared to facilitate course-correction? – right actors, right information, at the right time to better inform choices
I encourage you to seriously start looking at what you are measuring and ask yourself:
Are we measuring what we can count, or what counts?