Saturday, 4 January 2014

The ROI of the Intangibles

We’re in an age that believes in quantifying everything. We have a strange fascination for data that makes us want to translate everything into a numeric value. Luckily for us modern technology has in place all the requisite tools to churn out the exact figures that test the viability of any idea, strategy and policy. It is a compelling obsession with profits that characterises our modern age which insists on adding a value tag on everyone - even on intangible qualities which we attempt to measure by sophisticated software that runs on man-made algorithms. It is indeed easy and convenient to sum up a person’s professional success based on quantifiable factors that clearly spell out gain and loss and even easier to calculate his worth by relying on the seemingly complex graphs coughed up by the innumerable computer apps available today. It’s the only language we understand and the only method we use to filter value from futility, to sift the grain from the chaff.

The ROI (Return on Investment) - as the corporate culture puts it, is the magic mantra that puts its stamp of approval  - thus rendering effective all the time and efforts spent on a given task and justifying the credentials and capabilities of the workforce. So as long as the figures and stats speak for themselves - all’s well with the world.

As a part of the corporate culture I cannot afford to dismiss this very logical method of evaluation that gives visual proof of my achievements. It is going to be the facts and figures that are going to stand testimony to my mettle, to my potential and determine how I am appraised and assessed. While from a practical perspective, it makes perfect sense that everything, every act and every person should be able to produce the ubiquitous ROI, I do admit to feeling quite devalued to allow myself to be judged by these superficial parameters. Is success clearly that black and white? Is the effort and dedication we put into a task always directly proportional to the profits generated from it? Does this scale have any system to evaluate the more humane values that really are the backbone of sustained, long term growth and productivity?

It’s almost as if the intangibles don’t count – and qualities like integrity, commitment, sincerity often end up playing second fiddle to the more “logical” parameters like profit and loss that drive instant success. Genuine people are an invaluable asset at every level, be it with personal or professional relationships but their genuineness may or may not guarantee results – especially the short term ones. Yet they are the cornerstone of every endeavour and the fuel that turns the wheels towards real, lasting progress. But while assets such as these can only be perceived through personal interactions, impersonal statistics and data fall completely short when it comes to measuring their significance.

Somewhere in this fixation for measurements and evaluations, we simply overlook precious traits that actually matter, qualities and values that transcend quantification. In our quest to simplify, we have only succeeded in complicating our lives. As irrational and absurd as it may sound, we need to reduce the urge to constantly analyse people by reducing their worth into nothing more than data, and instead make room for judgement based on abstract and intangible concepts that define our unique entities. If only we could minimise our dependence on the number game in every sphere of our existence – whether in educational institutions, the corporate world or even in our regular day to day interactions, it would certainly add a whole lot of warmth to the increasingly indifferent and excessively materialistic world that we have created for ourselves.