Measuring the Unmeasurable - some thoughts from the book

I am currently having a really hard time defining the exact goal, what exactly I want to measure. While on the face of it qualitative research has the feeling that I can just go into the focus groups / workshops/ retrospectives of retrospectives without clear definitions of where I am headed and be surprised by what I find out and concentrate on coding this data later, think this is really only true on the face of it. Because while  qualitative research is "gathering stories", if I don't know what I want to find out, how will I pose the question correctly?

I have started read the book How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles – (third edition) by Douglas W. Hubbard. Hopefully this will help me define what I am getting at. It has inspired me - but I also do have some quesions... it almost seems to start at the theory of cogniton


Here are some thoughts and quotes from the book.

Measuring the unmmeasurable - some thoughts

Yes, there are a lot of things you don't know. But what do you know? Usually things that seem immeasurable in business reveal themselves to much simpler methods of observation, once we learn to see through the illusion of immeasurability.

If we think that measurement means meeting some nearly unachievable standard of certainty, then few things will be measurable. Observations that quantitatively reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty needs to be quantified. But subject of obsevation qualitative. nominal (yes, no) or ordinal (value more than but not how much more than), ratio/interval (homogeneous)

Some things seem immeasurable because we simply do not know what we mean when we first pose the question. What do you mean? Have you figured out what it is? AND: Have you figured out why it matters. Why do you care? If X is something I care about, then, by definition it must be detectable in some way. Because why would we care about things that are totally undetectable. If we have reason to care about some unknown quantity, it is because we think it corresponds to desireable or undesirable results in some amount. If you can observe a thing at all, you can observe more or less of it. (can you?). If you can observe it in some amount, it must be measurable.

Clarification Chain

1. If it matters at all, it is detectable/observable.

2. If it is detectable, it can be detected as an amount or range of possible amounts

3. If it can be detected as a range of possible amounts, it can be measured.

Or as Edwared Lee Thorndike put it: if a thing exists, it exists in some amount, if it exists in some amount, it can be measured.


Thought experiment: Imagine you could have two organisations one that stays the way it is - and one with more of the thing you are trying to measure. What would you expect to see? If it is a factor, then increasing it must have some outcome on future outcomes.

It helps to understand what is really being measured. Purpose of measurement is key to defining what the measurement is really supposed to be.

But it is difficult to infer sth unseen from sth seen




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