We’re wrapping up the 2012 London Olympics today with great fanfare and plenty of statistics. At this moment, the USA has 102 medals, top on the list and ahead of China with 87. The host, Great Britain, is in third with a respectable 62. Usain Bolt and his Jamaican teammates smashed more world records (44 world, 117 Olympic were set overall). The Olympics, just like all sports, are all about statistics and performance metrics.
Within days of the games’ start, I felt inundated; medal counts, country rankings, minutes, seconds, even alternative country rankings. It was all so easy to report in the press but do those numbers really matter? Do they reflect meaningful metrics for what the Olympics should mean?
The man responsible for creating the modern Olympic games, Pierre de Coubertin, summed up his philosophy as, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” We’ll return to this in a minute.
In my day-to-day job, I’m all about capturing the right metrics for my customers that allow them to know they’re doing the best they can. And metrics are a funny thing…if you don’t get them right, the most important things aren’t noticed, improved and reinforced. With my customers, I am constantly checking to see that the metrics we’re using are appropriate for measuring what matters. It is enormously important for their success.
So looking at the Olympics again. If de Coubertin had it right, what matters is the inspirational struggle. The metrics would have to measure the number of kids who choose to participate in the athletic competition, attendance at amateur events and support for the various national Olympic committees. Certainly not medal counts.
I realize I can’t change the way the Olympics are measured, but at least it reminds me of the importance of what I do for my customers in business process. Metrics matter because they drive toward success and are incremental and roll up to support organizational strategies. Maybe I can influence the Rio Olympics? Maybe not.