What’s wrong with wanting to be productive

Forty years ago, I was in charge of a project to set up a data center to support software development for client projects for what is now Accenture. A third of the way into the project, I identified a problem that was going to occur a few months down the road. I went to my boss, Mel, laid out the problem, and argued that we needed to notify folks up the line about the problem and the solution,

Mel told me to sit on the analysis and the solution. I did not understand. But I was smart enough to hold my tongue and listen. When the issue did start to reveal itself a few months later, we had a complete analysis and an instant solution in hand. That play bought us credibility and future resources we would never have gotten otherwise. And I learned a critical lesson in managing innovation.

We’re conditioned to be productive and to make good use of our time and talents. Admirable goals. But the language of productivity is built on a metaphor of factory work. Factories are for robots and robotic behavior.

The producing economy is about making copies of stuff—cars, clothing, iPhones. The knowledge economy is about creating the originals. Thinking about copies rather than originals leads you to ask the wrong questions and wrong questions never yield right answers

If your work is to create originals, how do we get at questions that might lead us to better answers? There are three short phrases I keep in mind;

  • make work observable
  • navigate the middle
  • solve for pattern

I’m going to leave those as a tease for now. We’ll come back to them over the next few days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.