If You Were to Measure Christmas…

by Stacey Barr |

In the PuMP Measure Design technique, one of the steps is to describe the result you want to measure in sensory specific language. This is a completely new concept to just about everyone, and they usually need a demonstration of what sensory specific language is. So here goes.

Sensory specific language is the use of words that describe what we see, hear, touch or feel, taste and smell. It’s language that describes how we observe and know things about the world around us. Our senses, afterall, are the ways through which we gather information.

I’ve discovered that sensory specific language plays a dramatic role in measure design. I love this: words come before numbers! It means we find the best measures when we start not with the question “how can we measure this performance result?” but rather with the question “what would we observe if this performance result were real, now?”

It’s a new and uncomfortable concept to many, because in business we’re trained and encouraged to use inert language: management-speak, motherhood statements, weasel words.

But weasely goals are hard to find meaningful measures for, and sometimes seem altogether immeasurable. You cannot measure what you cannot observe or detect. And you need to be able to describe, in sensory detail, what you would observe or detect if your goal became reality…

Santa with cookies and mil

You lay in your childhood bed, in a heavy-eyed stupor of half-sleep, straining to hear the tinkling of sleigh bells and cookie crunching echoing up the staircase and down the hall to your bedroom. What feels like an eternity later, the morning sun’s rays soak into the dark, and you’re springing out of bed like a gazelle.

golden fairy lights

Bounding down the stairs you go, with your heart banging in your chest with excitement for what you’ll find under the Christmas Tree. With your siblings, you’re giggling and scuttling around the scattered pile of red, gold, silver and green ribbon- and wrapping-clad, odd-shaped and varied-sized gifts; wide-eyed and grinning in the fairy-light glow reflecting off the silver and gold tree ornaments.

cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows

Your father dances clumsily down the stairs in your wake, attempting a baratone rendition of “It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas…” There’s the scent of cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate, that you know, without turning to look, is what your mother is stirring right now in the kitchen. It’s confirmed as she saunters into the lounge room balancing a tray of steaming blue mug-fuls, and you all squeal because that’s the unspoken tradition that you can now begin exchanging gifts.

puppy wrapped up for Christmas

Your first is from Santa, handed to you by your father. The parcel is wiggling and it’s making strange yippy noises! Tearing at the wrapping while butterflies flap in your tummy, you’re enveloped by the magical feeling that is completely unique to a childhood Christmas Morning.

… So, before you search for your next performance measure, start with the question “what would we observe if this performance result were real, now?” Create a sensory-rich description of the evidence that would convince you of the result’s achievement. That evidence becomes the clues for what to measure.


Have a happy Christmas, with your attention constantly seeking the myriad twinkling, comforting, delicious, scented and melodic moments that collectively make this time of year uniquely special.

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