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.
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.