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You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure: An Exercise in Logical Fallacy

Photo attribution: Yoichi Okamoto Robert McNamara is known to many as the US Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968.  Perhaps more interesti...

Dean Rusk, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara

Photo attribution: Yoichi Okamoto

Robert McNamara is known to many as the US Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968.  Perhaps more interestingly, his name is also infamously linked to a specific error in logic which has become known as the "McNamara Fallacy", a logical fallacy that is unfortunately still blindly applied today via poor management methodology that relies heavily on templating solely quantitative observations without understanding the actual relevance of them.

You may have heard this regurgitated as the maxim "You can't manage what you can't measure", an obsolete business belief rooted in the confusion that fails to comprehend that measurability does not equal relevance.

In McNamara's particular situation, his subscription to this logical fallacy led to the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War.  McNamara was convinced that victory could be reduced to a metrics based mathematical model and that the abstract of his measurements would enable him to manage an success.  For example the idea that troop numbers as a purely metric count (soldier vs soldier) could then be applied in a larger context to leverage better training and weapons to win over similar numbers of troops with less training and inferior weapons.

History shows how that turned out, and yet many poor management templates today still make the mistake of subscribing to this mantra.  The common thread in all of them is clear, a confusion between measurability and the actual relevance of those metrics to the problem at hand.

For those of you working in a corporate setting Liz Ryan explains this same fallacy beautifully and with appropriate disdain.


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The Official Auki Henry: You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure: An Exercise in Logical Fallacy
You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure: An Exercise in Logical Fallacy
The Official Auki Henry
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