Measure Anything the Sesame Street Way

There are a lot of intangible things in life, things that affect the service that you are delivering and the business that you are running.   Things that you would love to know, but are frankly just impossible to find out.  How about these for a couple of examples:

  • How effective are your managers?
  • How strong are your public relations?
  • How valuable is your intellectual property?

Now, if you knew the answers to those questions that would be worth something, wouldn’t it?  But it is just too damn difficult to find out.  Here is a problem, a real one.  Imagine you are the Producer of Sesame Street.  Things that are pretty high on the list of intangibles include:

How much does the audience enjoy the programme?

How about that for an intangible question?  It is difficult to hold down a conversation with a three year old, it is even harder to get a sensible response, how could they answer that?

1.  Clarify the decision

Don’t start with the information or measurement, start by being really clear what the decision is that you want to make.  Why would the Producer of Sesame Street want to know if his audience enjoy the programme?  Maybe the decision to be made is “At what point should I change scenes?”  or “Which characters should have most air time?”

2.  Look for consequences

Think through the observable consequences of the thing you are trying to measure.  In the case of audience enjoyment of Sesame Street, what would you see if they were enjoying it?  If they weren’t what would happen?  As I have small children that is an easy question to answer; if they are enjoying a TV programme they sit quietly, they don’t move, they stop.  If on the other hand they aren’t enjoying it they will start to “create”, create a mess, create some noise, create a fight.  Measuring the attention span of a toddler is a very easy thing to do.

3.  Check the logic

Check that this outcome matches up to the decision you are trying to make?   Would the time taken for a toddler to lose interest in a programme help make decisions about characters or scene changes?  Erh…Yes

And that is exactly what the producers of Sesame Street do.  They play the programme to groups of children and put a set of suitably enticing toys in the opposite corner to the TV.  Then they get their stop watches out.

Which is why my children will happily watch it for hours, allowing me to be the worlds worst parent.

So what would you like to measure?  Could the Count help you?

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Image by Brett Jordan

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  1. Some really good points, I had heard the Sesame street story before.

    We spend too much time worrying about what we can’t measure rather than what we can.

  2. Michael Thompson says:

    Really like the way that this is laid out. I think you are right about the need to clarify thedexission that needs to be made.

    I sit in so many discussions where we really aren’t sure what the issue is.

    If we are clear about what we are trying to achieve it helps no end

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