Do you want an innovative organisation – a creative workforce?

If so, think about when you last had an original (or half original) thought. Not recently?

Well, if you can’t think originally, why and how do you expect your staff to do so?

You need to be disciplined about thinking – and about adopting approaches and techniques that encourage creativity. You need to work at it – to practice those techniques and force yourself into situations where you have to think.  (I recommend looking at TRIZ – look  it up!)

When you start thinking, you can start encouraging your staff to do so.

What’s it like being a role model? You are about to find out.

Examine yourself

I have recently been writing assessments for students on productivity-related courses.  This is one of the more difficult exercises in academic life – and, of course, exceedingly important …both for the quality of the qualification involved  -  and  for the future life of the students.

One of the advantages is that it makes you think carefully about what you are testing – and therefore about the content and makeup of the course.  Assessment is in some ways a summary of the course – setting out its main purposes.  The big distinction between different types of course is whether, on successful completion, students should know stuff – or be able to do stuff.  This reflects massively in the forms of assessment you can use. Testing ‘doing’ is much harder than testing ‘knowing’.

I am much more interested in the ‘doing’ – after all I want people to be able to improve productivity, not know about improving productivity in theory.  I think the assessments we use are getting better at testing the ‘doing’ but our situation, and our testing, is complicated because wev are creating online courses – with online assessments.

I will improve – I review student performance on assessments and try to work out where the flaws in the assessment itself have contributed to poor performance

What I am trying to do, of course, is to improve my productivity – not in producing more assessments in the same timescale (though that would be nice) but by improving the quality of the assessments – and thus the value offered to customers(students).

Productivity pops up everywhere, doesn’t it!  If I can;’t improve my own productivity, how can I expect to teach others how to do it?

Atlantic Concerns

Those of you who read last week’s post will know I was in the USA on vacation.  I am now back in the UK and can reflect on the political differences.

The USA was preparing for the mid-term elections and there was continual political advertising on the TV – most of which was completely negative, attacking opponents rather than offering positive suggestions and solutions to America’s ills.

The UK seems much more policy based – and far less confrontational (though it does have its moments).  But there is far too much discussion and pontification about Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union).

Neither set of politicians seems focused to any degree on productivity – yet that is the only issue that is likely to increase the wealth and well-being of their citizens.  The only concern of most politicians seems to be their own re-election … policy and principles come much further down the list of priorities.

How do we convince them to take productivity seriously? Do we need to turn it into a contentious issue they can debate and even argue about – and be confrontational with their ‘enemies’?


The problem is if we take that approach, while we do that, their real (economic) enemies are improving their productivity and winning the economic war.  We need focus now!

Start with tradition

I’m currently touring parts of the USA with my son, on vacation. We both like a mix of natural beauty, tradition and live music. Tradition anchors a country in its core vales, though the U.S  is having great difficulty at present at remembering and applying its own core values as carved on the Statue of Liberty and enshrined in the constitution, If, as individuals, organisations or nations, we forget our core values, we run around aimlessly with no clear direction, no purpose and no empathy. The result can be disaster. Sure we can seize opportunities but where do we take them, how do we shape them.

The WCPS believes that productivity creates wealth and that if we share that wealth equitably, we create the conditions for peace and understanding. Everything we do in the productivity arena is framed by that belief, that one core value.

What values shape your aims, aspirations and behaviours?

Where is the new fluoride?

When I was growing up, there was a great controversy about whether fluoride should be added to drinking water to combat tooth decay in children.  In the end, science ’won’ and children’s teeth have been much healthier since.

Now we have a need to combat another problem. Politicians have become very adept at ignoring science and ‘going with their gut instinct’ or, far more likely, political expediency. The Donald is twitterific in his criticism of the press and others who hold opposing views. ‘Fake news’ he asserts, ignoring anything factual or scientifically proven if it conflicts with his personal view.

We desperately need a new fluoride -a magical potion that can combat this ‘truth decay’.

Late shift

If at the end of a typical working day (of, say, 8 hours) you had to go and start another job elsewhere, I would expect your performance on Job 2 to be limited and poor.

Yet, in many organisations, we see people working well into the evening or taking work home with them – in effect, starting Job 2.

We have to find ways of getting our work done in less than 8 hours per day – or we are creating conditions for tired people and poor performance.

Even worse, if we do this over a long time, we create the conditions for poor health, for mistakes, for poor judgement.

If you have employees working excessively long hours, don’t be proud of them. Be ashamed of yourself for not planning and organising the work more effectively, for creating improved risk of failure.

No stretching

Parkinson’s Law famously stated that work expands to fill the time available. That is why we say “If you want something doing, give it to a busy person.”

Non-busy people make themselves look busy by expanding the work to fill their available time. Busy people fit the work into their available resources, condensing the time to what’s left in their busy schedule.

As a manager, your job is to distinguish between the truly busy (and effective) and the work stretchers.

Robots Good?

I was musing about robots recently – as one does … and started thinking about the sociology of such devices. Humans in a work situation can be excellent performers as  individuals but the real performance gains come when humans are organised into cooperative and collaborative teams.

Will the same be true for robots?

The answer to this has  little to do with the possible  effects on business.  This is a question for wider society – and for policy makers.

Are robot designers and manufacturers building ‘social skills’. Into their robots. Modern AI and machine learning approaches should make this possible. If robots could organise themselves into cooperative and collaborative groups, we may be astonished at the productivity gains we see.

 AI is quite a controversial area with many observers and commentators nervous about the potential threats in the future from sentient, intelligent (though artificial) beings.

With the potential for cooperative abilities built in, we might see highly efficient autonomous workgroups … but sometime in the future could we see robot ‘trades unions’ and even robot armies. 

Think before you count.

I read a piece the other day on the use of productivity measures for academic staff. The measures were all about output quantity (presumably with the proviso that papers wouldn’t be published if they didn’t meet quality criteria). However what matters is not quantity of output or quality of output but the impact of that output – how is thinking or practice changed as a result. 

This is difficult to measure as truly innovative and original ideas could take years to achieve their full impact. But attempting to judge it – even subjectively – might be a better measure than simply counting it. 

Productivity measures can be quite difficult to establish in certain contexts but we should be as creative with our measures as we are with our productivity improvements. 




An Intellifgent Future?

Artificial Intelligence is said to be set to revolutionise many sectors. Is this a force for productivity gains or just a threat to jobs?

Well, as the Australian Productivity Commission said recently, technology has over time created many more jobs than it has replaced.  But like Moore’s law, most technology trends eventually come to a juddering halt. So, AI might destroy more jobs than it creates.

If so, we will need to change how we distribute and share wealth – the fruits of productivity. Wealth inequality has been growing over the last 20 years. We have seen very few experiments in halting, or even slowing, it.

Yet, unless we find a way of ensuring that the many without work share the gains made by the few in work, society seems doomed.

Of course I could be wrong. (I often am.) AI might create a range if jobs that we haven’t even thought about yet … and we will continue our march of inequality to ….???