My Watch Loves Me

I was in Grand Rapids to visit Steelcase and decided to walk to breakfast at a place called Little Bird. I had eaten there a few years ago and was excited to experience their creative breakfast menu again. In the same area, one can also find the Grand Rapids Art Museum and a store named Kilwins, where you can purchase handmade chocolates and small batch ice cream.

I had Bread Pudding French Toast with Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote,

and Whipped Cream for breakfast, then went to see a special exhibit of American Impressionism from 1870 – 1940 at the GRAM, and finally had ice cream at Kilwins—all before 10 am. About the time I got back to my hotel, my watch cheerfully displayed, “You’re off to a great start!”

My watch is wonderful to me. It often encourages me (“You can still do it!”) and tries to protect my emotional and mental health (“Take a moment” or “Breathe”). However, my watch doesn’t really know me, nor does it love me. It is just taking a few inputs, my activity and time mostly, and popping out programmed responses. This particular morning, I may have walked a few additional steps, but I also had nothing but dessert for breakfast! That is a great start in many ways, but not from a health standpoint.

Many times, what we measure and what we know limits our available responses to situations and to people. How often do I say, “How are you?” to someone, only to get the standard reply, “I’m good, you?” While they may be good, or at least good in some respects, I must believe that a lot of those replies are covering up things that the other person may want to share but for some reason can’t.

What we measure creates channels that our knowledge and understanding must run in. If my only interaction with someone is to say hi in passing and my only data (measurement) of them is their response, I will probably be wrong about their true state of being. My watch doesn’t know what I eat, how I feel, who I am with, or most of the other things that would indicate how healthy my mental and emotional state is. The things it does know are only partially accurate in indicating my physical well-being.

In systems, what we measure impacts the legitimacy of our analysis. If we measure how many parts a machine produces per hour without the additional inputs of quality, tool use, wear on the machine, and other factors, we may believe the machine is running well, when, in fact, it is not. The more complex the system, the more critical having the right metrics becomes. Measuring the effectiveness of a hammer is simple compared to measuring the performance of a jet plane.

Having, and then paying attention to, good metrics in complex systems takes time. We must first understand the system before we can determine what to measure that will monitor its health. It is also critical to observe the system from an overall view occasionally to make sure the metrics we are focused on aren’t failing to reveal some important change. Often, the best metrics are internal to the system and require full access to monitor.

In communities, which are very complex, we must rely on relationship to create deeper interactions (measurements) that lead to a greater understanding of the actual state another person is in. The access to “internal” information only comes with trust and transparency, both of which require time and consistency to achieve.

What makes leadership so challenging, yet so satisfying when it is done well, is that everything is a combination of systems and people. One impacts the other, and both are complicated to understand and measure. Some simple metrics can be useful and can even produce results (my watch does affect my behavior a little); however, more complex data is needed to create reliable and repeatable results.

Leaders must take the time to know their team and then help them determine the best way to track progress and performance. We can easily measure where someone is, but that doesn’t tell us how efficiently they are accomplishing their work. We can ask simple questions like, “How are you?” and accept the shallow response, but that doesn’t help us care for those around us.

My watch doesn’t love me, but I know the people I work with do. I know this because they take the time to listen to me, and they are interested in how I am really doing. I also know the people around me care about Kimray, our products, and our customers, because they take the time to determine what to measure to ensure we are making a difference in the lives of the people we serve. My watch can tell time, but it can’t love me. People who make time to pay attention to others and the things they are doing demonstrate that they care, and they believe in The Kimray Way.