Dethroning productivity: becoming more effective

There’s an itch I’ve been picking at for some time. Everyone wants me to be more productive. All I need to do is listen to their podcast, buy their book , install their software, or implement their system. I’ve spent too much time and energy chasing those promises with limited return.

Productivity metrics are appealing because they’re easy. Count the number of notes you’ve captured to your personal knowledge management system. Plot the number of words you wrote today. Reward the programmer who wrote the most lines of code last week.

Productivity matters if you’re turning out cars or cellphones. Not a great metric if you’re in a more creative line of work. Einstein wasn’t lauded for how many papers he wrote. Picasso wasn’t praised for being prolific.

We appreciate this distinction in clearly creative realms. We haven’t managed to transfer that appreciation to less obviously creative spaces. More importantly, we haven’t grappled with the reality that we now all operate in creative realms.

Peter Drucker made a step in this direction when he wrote The Effective Executive (see Effective executives are design thinkers for my review). Although Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker”, he didn’t extend his analysis of effectiveness to them. But we knowledge workers now drive the economy and we don’t have good ways to sort out how to manage ourselves appropriately.

I’d like to spend the next few weeks taking a deeper look at what it might mean to shift from thinking about efficiency to thinking about effectiveness. Can we think and talk about effectiveness in ways that can better shape how we go about doing our creative work?

3 thoughts on “Dethroning productivity: becoming more effective”

  1. (mistakenly filled in the name/address material, then hit ‘post’)

    bare productivity metrics give us just-in-time brittle supply chains, repetitive stress injuries, burned-out workers, and numerous other knock-on effects that are deeply counterproductive in ways that management measures frequently obscure or conceal.
    We need to rediscover the beneficial effects of slack in systems — less ‘productive’, but more resilient, more humane, and more generative.

  2. In an HBR article published several years ago, the author described how many of our ‘productivity” concepts and strategies were originally developed by plantation overseers to report to their absentee land-owners.

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