ACCORDING TO THE COLUMBIA Accident Investigation Board, NASA never fixed the underlying institutional problems that led to the 1986 Challenger tragedy. As a result, many of those issues played a role in Columbia’s doomed flight in February 2003. “In both cases,” the investigation concluded, “engineers’ intuitions, hunches and concerns were disregarded by top management because of the absence of hard data.”
To some, this indictment is a call for more measurement tools. Yet, does excessive data-measuring play to our lowest assumptions about people? Have we become so focused on measuring data and results that we no longer listen to the voices of our people, effectively squelching great ideas or even warnings of catastrophic importance? Could 9/11 have been prevented if the right people in the federal administration had heeded warnings that Al Qaeda was conducting a dress rehearsal at US airports?
Measuring data is a vital business activity. Yet, Richard Florida, in The Flight of the Creative Class, says our over-reliance on data is dampening creativity, and that a nation that is not creative is not competitive.
Florida is not alone in his assessment. Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, observes a trend toward a more creative mindset. “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the information age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capability of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”
Companies that encourage creativity and trust, engage management and employees in creating a compelling purpose, produce new products, new jobs and help develop new global markets.
We need to support people who speak up. We need to raise trust levels, heed concerns, consider the unproven and even encourage the outrageous. Because to be competitive we need to be creative.
Measuring data tells us where we are and where we’ve been. Both are important. But they don’t tell us where were we can go.