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Hyper Productivity And Information Saturation Economics

treading

I have been pondering a new notion of productivity and value lately, which I thought up while talking to my mom about her tax affairs and the never-ending paper stream. Then I saw this post from Fastforward blog so I thought I better just write something up. The notion of fastforward is particularly apposite to my thinking. Joe McKendrick was riffing off Andrew McAfee’s latest work, based on teaching an MBA class:

“One of the most interesting things for me about these classes has been how often students bring up one specific concern: that people who use the new tools heavily — who post frequently to an internal blog, edit the corporate wiki a lot, or trade heavily in the internal prediction market — will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs.”

As Joe says: “Unfortunately, not everyone works at Google”.

So where does hyper productivity come in? I have been thinking about what it means to “tread water”. Treading water is good not bad. You see, if you don’t tread water then you go under… We’re drowning in information and treading water is about all you can expect. That is, until the opportunity asserts itself.

We used to talk about two steps forward and three steps back, and so on, but today its more like 50 steps sideways and 2000 steps forward. Networked, social-based opportunities are so explosive today than when we pursue them we’re flung forward at pace. Think of Twitter or Second Life on the grand scale, or Stormhoek in the meat space. You didn’t really know Stormhoek is a major business story until the results came in, as Hugh slowed down and the stars stopped whizzing by as lines. We may have thought Hugh was just treading water, trying out new tools, new approaches and so on. But networked effects had already kicked in. Another hyperspace burst: check out the Thresher discount numbers.

I entirely agree with Andrew and Joe that not every organisation will be tolerant of their employees as learning machines, but without human/machine learning engines in place, the big opportunities are going to be missed Success is increasingly bursty (YouTube, Google itself) and the old RIO won’t cut it there.

One way around the impasse between clock watchers and hyperspace people could be training and budgets. Any company should have a training budget in place, and make sure their employees regularly update their skills. But many don’t. Why not introduce Google-style 20% time, dedicated to getting smarter. Its also worth nothing that the people that want to live like this, learning knew toolsets, are lifelong learners anyway, and will spend a huge amount of their own time learning (and imparting!) useful skills and knowledge (now if clock watchers want to start *paying* employees for that time things really could get interesting).

What am I saying? ROI tends to be about incremental value. Traditional company budgeting and forecasting tends to be about incremental value – what Sig calls the naivety scene. But business in the burst economy is extreme, which calls for new approaches, fast failing and so on.

Of course spotting the opportunity isn’t enough. The mothership also needs to act on it, and often overcome the shackles of success. But i know one thing. Without social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies on staff your company will never see the opportunity in the first place, let alone act on it.

hyperspace

update: Especially given Dan McWeeny’s question in the comments I thought it was worth pointing to this post about making the workplace fun/creative… which may well be the same as productive.

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21 Responses

  1. I like these kinds of idea but as Joe McKendrick correctly points out – therer are hurdles and barriers, even among the most enlightened.

    I talked about this (coincidentally) in a different but loosely related post. As I have experienced it so far, shifting some organisations is really, really tough. It’s important to remember that many organisations can, and do, survive very nicely in maintenance mode.

    Even when companies do see things happening they fail to react. Consider Ford. Classic example of behaving in pretty much the same way while Toyota creams them year after year.

    Is there a solution? I think there is. In another post, you referred to an insult. What could be a worse insult for a company, however successful on the surface, than to be described as ‘irrelevant’ in a world that’s showing an abundance of innovation?

    If I was any brand leading company tagged with that label, I’d be in serious corproate pain. Because it is only when it hurts emotionally that people start to see things. I don’t see companies as any different because it is people who make up companies.

    This is only one stab at this incredibly coplex but interesting topic.

  2. You are absolutely right to call out culture here Dennis. its a key issue. Cote’s blog isn’t called People Over Process for nothing. I like your pain as educator point too. Farrell pricked his finger on a rose sunday- that sure changed his mind about how to deal with plants…

    jgovernorApril 17, 2007 @ 4:51 pmReply
  3. I think a lot of the talk about creating “hyper productive” people is overlooking one simple fact — lots of people don’t want to be hyper productive. To be involved in lots of arenas, contributing to blogs, wikis, commenting on others thoughts ( working defintion of “hyper productive?” ) requires that someone actually liking that subject area, being engaged if you will. The missing connection here is that a lot of people don’t like the subject area they work in, they do a job because a company pays them. To be hyper productive I think you really need to love what you do and sadly no training budget or exposure to the “hyper productive” kids will change you not loving what you do.

  4. great pushback dan. but you know what? the kind of people that love what they do are likely to love it regardless of subject. sure the enthusiasm can be knocked out of people, but the kind of people i am talking about here can find something to love in all kinds of areas.

    jgovernorApril 17, 2007 @ 5:14 pmReply
  5. Dan’s point makes a lot of sense James – certainly based on my recent experience in a firm where they are gung ho for many of these ideas. I’m feeling a bit Euanesque in that regard right now.

    For many people, the sad reaity is they are hired hands and don’t have any motivation to be considered otherwise.

    That is why I have the 1/9/90 rule – where the likes of those commenting here are in the 1%, the 90% are lurkers who do as they’re told. It is the 9% that interest me. How does a business turn these into those incredibly valuable (but potentially dangerous) 1% types?

    When that happens then I believe there is an incalculable benefit. As we all know an extra (incremental) 1% VALUE that flows straight to the bottom line is worth a mint when you’re making anything less than 25 cents on $ in earnings. Get an extra 3% and you’re a serious corporate hero. How many large businesses only dream of coming that close. For which C-P would be a good proxy methinks.

  6. That’s the money ball, Dennis. Lots of places concentrate on the 90%, thinking there has to be a chance of “converting” *some* of them – but not only are the 9% more valuable because they are already more committed than the 90, they are also easier to get over the line because they don’t have as far to ‘travel’.

  7. Reminds me that recently I was given one or two unpleasant tasks because there was a perception that I got all the “interesting” work, and I should share the pain. I told the boss perhaps rather than dragging me down, he should let the others have time to do interesting work too …

  8. Thanks for raising important issues!

  9. Good points. We often find ourselves recommending our clients that they should blog and engage in social media communities where their message can spread. Many times the answer is that they don’t feel that they have someone trained to take on that job. It is a mindshift process.

  10. HI, that’s a great post. Social media is growing so fast and becomes a tread. It spreads news and information quickly. People would like to spend time on reading posts and sharing their experiences. Especially, I agree that not everyone works at google. Social media is changing every day, and messaging might update every minute.

    RONG CHANG-CHIENFebruary 8, 2008 @ 8:35 amReply



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] control. The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity: We used to talk about two steps forward and three steps back, and so on, but today it’s more […]

  2. […] The busyness economy works on face time, incremental improvement, strategic long-term planning, return on investment, and hierarchical control. The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity. […]

  3. […] James Governor posts: We used to talk about two steps forward and three steps back, and so on, but today its more like 50 steps sideways and 2000 steps forward. Networked, social-based opportunities are so explosive today than when we pursue them we’re flung forward at pace. […]

  4. […] in a previous post, Andrew McAfee has been mulling the productivity mantra, and now Redmonk’s James Governor and our own Paula Thornton have joined in on our productivity consciousness-raising […]

  5. […] are worth reading in their own right, particularly HBS’ Dr Andrew McAfee and RedMonk’s James Governor.  The busy vs. burst conversation is also one that has been discussed here at acidlabs, […]

  6. […] Hyper Productivity and Information Saturation  (Thanks Si!) ROI tends to be about incremental value. Traditional company budgeting and forecasting tends to be about incremental value […]. But business in the burst economy is extreme, which calls for new approaches, fast failing and so on. […]

  7. […] Worker Daily wrote about Busy vs Burst working styles back in April, based on James Governor’s post , a FastForward post, and a post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee. The basic […]

  8. […] How do we manage the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies” James Governor talks about? […]

  9. […] a (nearly) always connected workforce, the eight hours a day, five days a week model is broken. The hyper-productive burst model is now the winner. I’ve spoken about this at length here at acidlabs as have several of my […]

  10. […] people can innovate. Only people can span bursty and busy modes. As I argued a few months back. We used to talk about two steps forward and three steps back, and so on, but today it’s more […]

  11. […] Governor from RedMonk threw this one at us back in April 2007.  He’s right. “Networked, social-based opportunities are so […]