Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Algorithmic vs. Heuristic: Does PR Measurement Try to Mix Oil and Water?

Creativity-signsby Bill Paarlberg In Delancyplace recently was an excerpt from Daniel Pink’s book Drive about how financial incentives are effective for improving productivity at some jobs, but not at others. Which got me to thinking: What if PR measurement attempts to create a reward structure that just doesn’t work for creative PR people? Maybe that would account for why some people are resistant to measurement.

Let me explain. Or, rather, let Mr. Pink explain:

“Behavioral scientists often divide what we do on the job or learn in school into two categories: ‘algorithmic’ and ‘heuristic.’ An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion… A heuristic task is the opposite… you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.”

If your job is creative (heuristic rather than algorithmic) then financial rewards may actually cloud thinking and dull creativity.

Yeah, you say, so what does this have to do with public relations and social media measurement? If you are a PR person who approaches their job in a creative fashion, because your personality is such that you value and enjoy a creative challenge, then the structure that measurement imposes may inhibit your ability to do your job.

Back to Mr. Pink:

“Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster. But “if-then” motivators are terrible for [complex conceptual problems].”

Well, many PR people would describe themselves as creative, and they enjoy doing the creative work of PR. Yet public relations measurement puts an if-then framework on the art of PR: It attempts to reduce the heuristic to the algorithmic.

Is it any wonder, then, that there might be some resistance from creative PR people to doing measurement?

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Thanks to Televisual for the image.

Bill Paarlberg
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Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg co-founded The Measurement Standard in 2002 and was its editor until July 2017. He also edits The Measurement Advisor newsletter. He is editor of the award-winning "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, and editor of two other books on measurement by Katie Paine, "Measure What Matters" and "Measuring Public Relationships." Visit Bill Paarlberg's page on LinkedIn.
Bill Paarlberg
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