The Measurement Used Can Alter The Impact Of Your Work

Long time readers know that I resist the use of economic impact as a measure of value for arts and culture for many reasons. The late potter-philosopher Carter Gillies was really effective in calling attention to the myriad ways in which using inappropriate measures of value would result in meaningless data and incorrect beliefs and assumptions.

Seth Godin recently made a post that illustrated that the measure you use shapes how you perceive the impact and value of the work you do. This brings the concept that just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean the result is meaningful to a more personal, relatable level.

Godin observes that we have long been indoctrinated to believe that completion of a task is a measure of productivity.  But, he asks, if “I did all my homework” is a measure of productivity, what has the practice of completing your homework ever done for you?

The actual measures of productivity that might be useful range quite a bit:

• I did enough to not get fired.
• I did enough to get promoted.
• I did enough to get hired by a better firm.
• I solved a problem for a customer who was frustrated.
• I changed the system and now my peers are far more productive.
• I invented something that creates new possibilities and new problems.
• I created new assets that I can use (and others can as well).
• I didn’t waste today.

Pick your measurement and the impact of your chores will change.

Just because you can measure productivity in terms of work completed, it doesn’t necessarily yield results that are meaningful–except perhaps to whomever is selling the work you have completed. But there are other measurements of value that can be applied to your work, some of them far more meaningful than others. The impact of that meaning could have–and I use this term intentionally–immeasurably more value than just units of work completed over time.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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