How To Measure Anything, Even Intangibles

August 5, 2010

Some things are easy to measure. Time, money, exercise, calories, location – all of these are relatively straightforward to repeatably determine or calculate. 
But how does one go about measuring happiness? What about compassion, or public influence, or creativity? These are more intangible, harder to pin down to a number that means anything.
Douglas Hubbard has written an impressive work called “How To Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.” The book is available here

While it’s written primarily for business people, the lessons transfer smoothly to self-experimenters. Hubbard begins with a compelling case for why to measure intangibles:
“Often, an important decision requires better knowledge of the alleged intangible, but when a [person] believes something to be immeasurable, attempts to measure it will not even be considered.
As a result, decisions are less informed than they could be. The chance of error increases. Resources are misallocated, good ideas are rejected, and bad ideas are accepted. Money is wasted. In some cases life and health are put in jeopardy. The belief that some things–even very important things–might be impossible to measure is sand in the gears of the entire economy.
Any important decision maker could benefit from learning that anything they really need to know is measurable.”

He goes on to explain in detail how to measure intangibles, including sections on how to clarify problems, calibrate estimates, measure risk, sample reality, and use Bayesian statistics to add to available knowledge. He also describes his Applied Information Economics (AIE) Approach that ties together several threads of his ideas:

“The AIE approach addresses four things:

1. How to model a current state of uncertainty
2. How to compute what else should be measured
3. How to measure those things in a way that is economically justified
4. How to make a decision”

Screen shot 2010-08-05 at 2.06.53 PM.png

I’m working my way through the book, and will post any new insights as I go. Feel free to add your own comments to this post too!
Thanks to Daniel Reda for finding this gem.

Related Posts

Anne Wright & Personal Science

Gary Wolf

April 14, 2022

This animation summarizes Anne Wright's description of how a person coping with chronic health issues progresses through the process of self-research. Click through to learn how to get early access to our book, "Personal Science: Learning to Observe."

Recovering from ACL Surgery

Davis Masten

January 27, 2022

Davis Masten describes how he used simple observational practices to aid his recovery from a common but challenging surgery.

Measuring Mood and Emotion

Gary Wolf

August 11, 2021

A post discussing the nuances behind designing experiments that track mood, including insights into the debate as to whether negative and positive emotions should be measured as polar opposite or considered states that can be experienced at the same time.