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Goodhart’s law has become a fairly well-known label for the entanglement of incentives with measurements:
“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to become a good measure.”
I’ve even heard that effect name verbified as Goodharting — that measures can be Goodharted by focusing pressure upon them, and that some measures are more susceptible or resistant than others to being corrupted thusly. Goodharting is the pressure that creates the incentive to game a system, by linking measurement to reward.
I mention this here and now as I think about expanding IS role design, sifting through notes from our distributed brainstorming last Sunday. Because really, aren’t “status games” the canonical example of incentives gone awry? Status itself is this word that kind of points to social capital, power, respect, honor, trust, a whole bunch of things smooshed together but it’s actually none of them. It’s the proxy, the signal, the metric, that we stereotypically seek when that’s easier than doing the things that people appreciated in the first place.
This is just me worrying abstractly about incentive design, by the way. To the extent of my social sensitivity, I’ve never seen any status-seeking behavior inside of IS sessions. But why would I? There’s not much in the way of reward to be gamed at present. One can enjoy the rewards of belonging, of empathy, of compassion and support from others, but only as these things flow directly out of interpersonal relating. Do stuff that feels good, get to feel good, there’s no mediating proxy metric in that loop.
The flattest of orgs in SD-green or Teal land still contain hierarchy — the container-holder, and everyone else. But we need to make space for more complexity and capacity than the omni-directional equality of green-meme would allow for. The shadow of flat-ness is the tyranny of structurelessness. Hierarchy itself is merely the recognizing of difference. Recognizing difference works better than trying to avoid doing so. (What you can’t talk about rules you from the shadows.) The challenge is, how do we recognize and integrate difference without Goodharting the very act of recognition?
I think the general principle I can see is “don’t put a proxy measurement in the middle of any flow if the abstraction can be avoided.” (hat tip to Pete from our conversation) So as we begin to distribute facilitation in IS sessions, we would avoid creating an abstract class or rank of “facilitator” that we would elect people into. There is only facilitating, the function, a thing that someone can do. Yes it is leadership, yes it is service that builds respect and influence — and those flow from doing the thing, not from “attaining the status of being certified to do the thing.”
Yes and, roles still exist even when they’re functional. They’re real, and can’t be hand-waved away any more than power dynamics. The key is that Goodharting requires targeting pressure on the metric, not just the existence of the metric. Maybe the language of “roles” isn’t helpful to use, versus “responsibilities” or somesuch. Or use the word, while keeping them functional, small, and time-bound. Avoid the creep of “status” as a parasitic thing detached from the things we really value like respect, trust, and service.
Oh yeah, and pairing practices like Circling with our forays into organizational development seems like a really good idea.