The "Major Prize" of Measurement

I had the honor of being a presenter at a “digital conference” two weeks ago. You know, the type of conference where everyone talks Digital conferencein hashtags and technology stacks. I had been asked to speak about how Our Water Counts had grown so rapidly into the top non-charity water feed on Twitter. What I didn’t expect was that the group would be voting on the top speakers. Even more unexpected was that I won a “major prize.”

I was so excited. I think of any major prize as a Leg Lamp, like on “A Christmas Story.” You know, the one that must have been from France because the box said “fragile” on it. But it wasn’t. It was Jawbone Up. If you are as unfamiliar with this as I was, it’s a fitness tracking band that connects to your phone by Bluetooth and an app.

I’ve seen these around and never had any interest in one. But, it was a “major prize,” so I decide to wear it with honor. I tore into the box in the taxi as I left the event, and even took a few selfies to brag about my “major prize.” This is where the world as I knew it ended…

This dark gray bracelet now owns me. In fact, I refer to it as “The Band of Judgment.”

Did you know that as I am typing this, I have for the past three days failed my sleeping quota, averaged over 12,000 steps and maintained an erratic bed time? I now know it takes, on average, 11 minutes for me to fall asleep, and I wake up once each night for a few minutes at around 3:30 a.m. Plus, it just buzzed to let me know I’ve been below the minimum activity level for 15 minutes.

I can barely take the idea that I only take 12,000 steps a day. So, I introduced a second run at night because my usual 5-miler wasn’t enough to get to 20,000 steps. That adjustment resulted in straining my calf so badly I had to seek out a physical therapist friend to work two days of rehab on it.

Next, the band of judgment told me I should be going to bed at 11:26 p.m. for optimal sleep. Since I got up at 6:15 a.m. to run 5 miles, then work all day, then — when my steps are too low — run another 5 miles, you’d think I’d be nodding off well before 11:26 p.m. Wrong. The band buzzes every 15 minutes and wakes me up!

Did I mention it now offers power nap suggestions? Yeah, based on my sleep pattern, it says it will allow a nap. Too bad GE isn’t so accommodating!

Here’s what I’ve learned. One, I know why most people toss these things in the first couple of days. Two, I have no clue if any of these metrics and bits of advice are actually good. Three, metrics change behaviors. And that last one is key.

When implementing new measures and procedures, we have to ask ourselves, what matters most? What metrics inspire the behaviors we want? Will we be able to measure the new effects, or just ensure that the metrics have been met? And what will we do with the new insights we gain?

In my position, it’s half-tempting to slap a band of judgment on global movements — like what we’re doing for the municipal water industry at Our Water Counts. But I’m not so sure we’d get the long-term results we so desperately need. The measurements the band would buzz about (like a leading Twitter feed) are really just gateways to measurements that mean much more (like how many Twitter followers are making changes in the way they think about and help manage the water crisis).

It certainly gives me a lot to think about on my second daily run.

Alan Hinchman

As Chief Operating Officer at The Water Initiative, Alan Hinchman leads global businesses and local communities in the pursuit of clean, affordable water. His work with water distribution information technologies helps make our most valuable resource safe and accessible around the world. Connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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