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Seeing beyond the sums

One of the dangers in leadership is to rely on counting too much. In our discussions we emphasize the need to speak in specific, measurable terms; namely, numbers. And this is very important. But we must use care on this point to balance our message. It is important that numbers are not all we speak about. As project managers, our mission, the project objective, is often defined in terms of numbers; numbers to achieve, numbers to exceed; whether we have achieved our mission or not is measured numerically, Yes, we achieved it, or, no we did not.

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Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” What does this tell us? On the one hand, numbers themselves are not inherently meaningful. And on the other hand, many things that are meaningful, are not defined by numbers at all. From Einstein’s perspective, the universe of the good and useful, the universe of meaningful things, was broader than strictly numeric expression. And we know this from our experience.

If your whole message speaks of numbers, and if your objectives are purely scribed in terms of data points, quotas, and tick points, then the people involved begin to see themselves as only cogs in a wheel grinding work out in raw numeric terms; cold and without consideration for the personal insights or interests of the team or others; just numbers; no sense of deeper purpose or meaning, no sense of the profound or of discovery, only lifeless static numeric expressions. Although we frequently reference our baselines and talk about how we are progressing against them and other measures, the truly important things we have to say to each other have little to do with the numbers. They are all about a deeper, more significant world and experience. And it is on the cusp of these living relationships that truly astonishing results occur, where teams perform extraordinary things.

Excerpted from Getting amazing things done by Henry Lewis

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