Last week, for the Thanksgiving holiday, we took a 6-hour road trip from Portland to Eastern Washington.
For the most part, the drive isn’t pretty.
The most common piece of architecture you see during the drive is the strip mall—outdoor shopping centers, common in North America, with rows of chain stores surrounded by large parking lots.
If you’ve never seen one, it looks like this.
And if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They all look the same, regardless of where you are. There’s zero character, zero charm, zero beauty.
As we drove past one strip mall after another, I kept thinking to myself: How did we get here? Thousands of years of architectural progress, and we ended up with over 65,000 strip malls in the United States?
The strip mall is the product of a mindset that focuses exclusively on what you can measure—here, cost efficiency.
If you ask yourself, How do we squeeze as many dollars as possible from every inch of space at the lowest cost?, you end up with the strip mall.
There’s a famous saying attributed to Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets managed.” But what gets measured doesn’t just get managed. What gets measured also gets all our attention. It becomes the thing, at the expense of what you can’t measure.
You can’t measure beauty in architecture.
You can’t quantify if you’re a better parent or a better colleague now than you were last year.
You can’t put a price on honesty, empathy, flexibility, or courage. This is why people call them “soft” skills—as if they aren’t real.
We assume only what can be quantified is real. And we neglect what can’t be measured.
So we end up with strip malls.
We rob people of their individuality and turn them into cogs in the machine.
We worship at the altar of productivity and tie our self-worth to how quickly we can clear our to-do lists or how many times we can reach inbox zero.
We track what’s easy to track—not what’s important—and falsely assume that if we hit these metrics, we’ve accomplished something valuable.
Be careful what you measure.
Because the most valuable things in life often don’t come with units of measurement.
P.S. My friend Neil Pasricha’s new book, Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together, is out next week. If you’d like a reminder of the little things in life that bring delight, check it out here.