“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.“

— Albert Einstein

(Einstein, again.  Did this guy ever say anything mundane?)

When the fiscal year turns for organizations, usually that means performance reviews and goal setting … and I believe people would rather go to the dentist than go through their well-entrenched performance management process!

One of the pain points involves goals; both setting them, and evaluating the degree of accomplishment of them.

The standard goal setting mantra is that our goals must be SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  There is much gnashing of teeth over this, and, in my experience, especially over the measurable part.

Einstein helps.  Let’s look at his two part remedy.

Not everything that can be counted, counts.

I have seen managers resort to setting goals just based on the fact that they can easily be measured.  Perhaps you’ve seen this as well?  This is really just a quick step from one objective to another; instead of setting goals that will drive behaviors that will ultimately help the organization achieve its goals, there’s a quick step to setting goals that make the eventual evaluation easier.  Easier may be better for the manager, but it is not better for the organization…

Einstein’s remedy, part two: 

Not everything that counts can be counted.

Ahhh; this is the one that drives most everyone nuts!  This is saying that sometimes, important activities can’t really be measured.  Not everything that really matters can be easily assessed.  Which, by extension, means that sometimes we may have an important goal with a fuzzy, subjective method of assessment.

And, if we do the aforementioned quick step, we will end up not adopting these goals that really do “count” because they can’t be counted.  Again, not good.

So, paraphrasing Einstein: Just because goals can be measured, it doesn’t mean that they matter; and some goals that really matter just can’t easily be measured.

Let’s put this to the test —

Do you love your wife?
Yes, very much.
How much?

Loving your significant other counts.  Without question.  Yet it defies measurement.

I can see him telling his wife that he is setting a goal:  I want to love you, honey, more tomorrow than I did yesterday.  And I cringe when I envision his manager wife objecting, because, well, how is she going to be able to assess that?  So she suggests a different goal…


I’m all for seeking to write goals that have the means to decipher the level of accomplishment.   But let’s apply a reasonable test to this effort!

And let’s get more comfortable with a less than specific metric for some goals, and allow people to go after them with force and passion, and then depend more on their good sense and decency to ascertain and self-report on their attainment.

Speaking of passion — Wouldn’t we just love that wife to encourage her husband to have that goal despite no specific measurement … and then, come the turn of their “fiscal” year, as they snuggle on the couch to do their respective “performance” reviews she hears this report from him on that goal —

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning