( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Quantity vs Quality — is one metric “Better” than the Other?
Back in the day, during my “formative college years”, I was given an assignment, that definitely changed the way I looked at the world ever since.
The lessons I learned in that Creative Writing class, I still carry with me, to this very day.
The assignment: Read the American Classic:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
And then, Write an Essay on “What does it means to write a Quality Essay?”
(ie. Why is one Essay, better than another? … How can you tell?)
Is it the count of the words that matters … or their depth, when taken as a whole?
Some People are “Numbers People”. It’s all about Facts, and Charts. Concrete Results. Bottom Lines.
Other People are “Ideas People”. It’s all about striving for Ideals, and setting Grand Goals. Helping the many. Building a Better World.
Measuring Quality vs Measuring Quantity.
Both have their place. But is one Metric preferable than the other?
Or is one person’s Quality of Life, simply another person’s “roughing it”?
That is the classic Dilemma as expressed in that philosophical American Classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — An Inquiry into Values — by Robert M. Pirsig
The main character of the book, is a College Professor, who is now on the quintessential “road trip” — in a search of meaning and truth in his life.
To give you a sense of it, here few of the more thought-provoking quotes at the end of:
Part II – Chapter 8
I know that she came by a second time and asked, “Are you really teaching Quality this quarter?” and he nodded and looked back from his chair for a second and said, “Definitely!” and she trotted on. He was working on lecture notes at the time and was in a state of complete depression about them.
… so he wrote on the blackboard: “Write a 350-word essay answering the question, What is quality in thought and statement?” Then he sat by the radiator while they wrote and thought about quality himself.
Quality — you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others — but what’s the “betterness”? — So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?
How would you define Quality, in either Society, or in your own Life?
How would you answer that 350-word essay on:
What is Quality? … Why are some things “better” than others?
Take a brief “thought journey” with me, if you will:
When your life, has been lived, to the best of your abilities,
and you’re approaching those lingering years of retirement on “golden pond” —
How will you gauge your own “success” on this Planet? (looking back on it all, then)
Please indulge me a personal digression, to illustrate this dilemma, of how to “best” gauge success:
I’m a database programmer by trade. There is a common scenario, that plays itself out, over and over again in the industry, that illustrates the “paradoxical” nature of the problem of Measuring Quality vs Measuring Quantities.
Some of the prevailing metrics, used to “gauge” a Programmer’s Productivity, go like this:
– How many lines of Code are written per day?
– How many Programs or Projects, are Completed per year?
– How much did it cost, to complete the Software Project?
– How many reusable Routines were developed, for future use?
– How many users/hits does the Application get, per day, per week?
Those are Examples of Quantity-based measures of “the success” for your typical software programmer (who is constantly facing the threat of overseas outsourcing).
On the other hand, there are some other metrics that are applied less frequently, that have more to do with the overall “synergistic effects” that Coding can have on providing Quality Solutions in the real world:
– Were the original Business Needs and Problems, resolved by the Software Application?
– Are the Program Managers and Users, more productive when using the Software Application?
– Are the Customers better served, better informed, and generally more satisfied, as result of this Programming Project?
– Does this Programming Project, fit in well, and share data well, with other existing Programming Projects in the organization?
– Is the historical accuracy of the Data preserved, and easy to search, easy to compile?
Those are Examples of Quality-based measures of success for your typical software programmer (who appreciates the impact Coding should have in the day-to-day work world). Similar examples could be spelled out, for other occupations I’m sure, such as Teacher, Police Officer, Soldier, Office Administrator, or HR consultant. This same type of “metric” dilemma exists in most fields:
We tend focus on concrete Quantities as a “gauge” for Success ($$$$), when often it is the Qualitative aspects of problem-solving, that matters SO much more, in the long run timescales of Human History.
I suspect this bias toward Quantitative Scoring, is largely the result of what is easier to measure — “Multiple Choice” Tests are definitely easier to Grade, than Essay Tests, afterall. But which answer, demonstrates the greater depth of knowledge, for any given field?
Concrete, Right or Wrong Answers or Subjective, wide-ranging, Shades of Grey?
Just because something’s easy to Count, does that automatically mean: It’s worth Counting?
Back to the “Software Synergy” concept. As a Society we owe a lot to Software Developers (and to many, many other creative professionals, often driven by qualitative vision and the honing of skills). But just HOW often are the benefits to Society of such Synergistic Efforts measured?
Indeed, is the attention to Quality, which leads to increases in worker Productivity, is that ever considered in the Profit Equations? Or is it all just: Dollars saved, Customers acquired, Contracts closed, Costs cut, Resumes processed, Tickets written, Combatants neutralized — are these the only “types of metrics” that Modern 21st century Society, has the time to account for?
Will achieving a Quality Education, or a Quality Level of Health Care, or a Quality sense of Humanity, or a Qualitative Hope for the Future, will those things EVER be a factor, ever be measured, and somehow folded into that all-important bottom-line GNP?
— Rarely are “Quality of Life”, or “Quality of Solutions” considered, or certainly not often enough. Used to be “Customer Service” was Job One — these days, it seems to be about Job 5 or 6, assuming “time constraints allow” for such quaint niceties … Ok then, be nice.
Thought experiment, number two (assuming you are still following my Zen-like thread):
Imagine HOW different your life would be WITHOUT:
or Google News,
or the latest Poll says,
or so-and-so political blog says,
or you fill-in-the-blank.com
These “Qualitative Innovations” no doubt, have added some “value” to your life.
(or why else would you spend so much time there?)
Now lets extrapolate that “Synergistic Effect” of The Web, back to Newspapers, and before that Libraries and Journals. Indeed, imagine how our modern Quality of Life, has been forever improved, by the simple invention of the “Printing Press” —
Or Imagine your “Quality of Life”, or lack there of, WITHOUT all these instant communication “enhancements”. (perhaps you imagine your Quality increasing without the endless clutter of ideas and opinions; perhaps you can’t imagine your life with out these instant tools.) Personally when my computer crashed a while back, I felt like “half my brain was missing for while” without having Google and Bing at my fingertips, to tell me, what’s what.
Do you think Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the “Printing Press” was motivated by the “bottom-line Wealth” his invention could bring in, someday? [Quantitative] Or was Gutenberg motivated to “Improve the Quality of Lives”, for the millions of the under-educated, to lift up the under-privileged? [Qualitative]
Gutenberg’s invention did indeed “change the world.” — No doubt in ways, that even he didn’t imagine at the time.
We all owe a lot to the Researchers and Inventors, throughout the ages — who often go nameless, lost to history, even though their hard work and inspiration, continue to have a lasting impact on others, long after their short lives, have passed.
Is it the person who has the most achievements (or the most Money) in the end, that WINS?
Or is it the person who has the most positive impact on others, who has really lived, a life worth living?
Which Metrics are the “best” for figuring out — Who really made “a Difference”, with their lives?
Or is it neither Quality or Quantity? (because “Winning” is so fleeting.)
Because Life is simply a long difficult “struggle to survive”.
Period. Exclamation Point!
End of Story.
move along … nothing to see here.
please stay seated, try not to make any waves …
because that’s what’s “we’re suppose to do” …
(or so that’s what they keep telling us — you know, those guys cutting the checks.)
Because the many believe,
the main measure of a successful life,
is to find meaningful work;
and to do that work well.
day in day out.
time after time.
however sad, it’s true. (or so we live out our days that way.)