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Onions and Apples and Scales

November 22, 2017

The woman placed two large onions into the scale and glanced at the weight. She then picked up the onions, placed them in her cart and kept shopping.

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow. We ventured out to the store to pick up some last minute items. The grocery store parking lot was only about half full. The calm before the storm of Black Friday. My lovely wife sent me to collect Granny Smith apples for homemade apple pie.

If they are pretty good sized get 15. But, if all they have are the small ones get about 20.

These are the kinds of instructions that work best for me when shopping with her: a specific item and a number. As I counted out 15 Granny Smith apples (do they look pretty good sized to you?) the woman came to weigh her onions. I rarely use the scales. In fact, I only weighed the apples for the picture.


I wondered, was there any number that could come up on that scale that would have made the woman put the onions back? Was she weighing them to see how much they would cost at the register? did she do the multiplication in her head as she headed toward the frozen food aisle? Would she have purchased the onions if she couldn’t weigh them first?

But, there is something reassuring about measuring things. In woodworking there is a saying,

Measure twice. Cut once.

It acknowledges the fact that once you cut a board you don’t have a chance to go back and make it longer, for example. On Monday I’ll head back to work along with most of the rest of the world. I’ll commute the 40 miles from my house in Pleasant Grove to my office in Salt Lake City. I will watch the speedometer, of course. But, will I use it? I’ll be on the freeway with thousands of other cars going about the same speed. I won’t go faster than them. I won’t go slower. Why have a speedometer in that case?

Because there is something reassuring about measuring things.

In business, especially IT, but most business, there is a saying,

What gets measured, improves.

My company measures everything. We measure length of a call. Number of calls. Customer satisfaction with a call. Employee satisfaction with the company. Client satisfaction with our company. Much of the data is used for specific purposes. We get paid based on the numbers. Our management team knows the numbers to the third and fourth decimal place.

But, other numbers are captured to let us know how we are doing. We grade ourself. And our client grades us. If I were to get a poor client grade, I would care about it. But, I wouldn’t care if I got a 3.5 out of 5.0 or a 3.75. The fact that I was getting less than a perfect score would mean that I had areas to improve. In fact, if I’m doing my job well, I already know what areas I have to work on.

But, there is something reassuring about measuring things. I don’t need a score on my performance review to know that I’m doing a good job. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that I bought 2. 96 lbs of apples.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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