A monkey wrench in the works of HR, bean-counting, and other such enterprises and a pleasure for contrarians in a...

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THE TYRANNY OF METRICS

For every quantification, there’s a way of gaming it. So argues this timely manifesto against measured accountability and other “knowledge that seems solid but that is actually deceptive.”

“Man is the measure of all things,” said Greek philosopher Protagoras. These days, it seems that humans are the most measured of all things, endlessly tested and quantified. As Muller (History/Catholic Univ. of America; The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought, 2002, etc.) observes, “a key premise of metric fixation concerns the relationship between measurement and improvement.” In other words, we are measured so that we provide more productivity, better test scores, and more money. In fact, as the author notes, when we are measured so fixedly and fixatedly, we tend to figure out ingenious workarounds: surgeons whose success rates are so quantified, with hospital ratings and pay scales set accordingly, tend to avoid difficult cases that can skew the score. The quality of information gathered tends to be degraded with increasing standardization—witness the phenomenon of teaching to the test, which in the end teaches almost nothing but improves the numbers by lowering the expectations and the standards. In a spirited, nicely wrought diatribe that is of a piece with Edward Tufte’s much-studied excoriation of our addiction to PowerPoint presentations, Muller delivers some sharp arguments against received wisdom. He is the rare college professor who allows that not everyone should be in college, that “the metric goal of ever more college students is dubious even by the economistic criteria by which higher education is often measured.” So what is to be done? Deprecate metric fixation, the author argues, in favor of “the key functions of management: thinking ahead, judging, and deciding.” Ask the old cui bono question: who benefits from more metrics? And other such revolutionary stuff.

A monkey wrench in the works of HR, bean-counting, and other such enterprises and a pleasure for contrarians in a hypernumerate world.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-691-17495-2

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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