Be Physical

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is making good progress and we have seen computers doing very well at strategy games like Chess and Go.

AI is ideal for situations where a large quantity of data has to be processed as the basis of a ‘logical’ decision.  This applies in strategy games, and in commercial activities such as stock and commodity trading.

So computers can play chess.  But they can’t easily pick up the chess pieces.  They are much less adept physically than ‘mentally’.

This means that as the next generation of schoolkids start to look for jobs, a number of what are currently high paid jobs might be being performed by computers.

Those kids should look to become plumbers, gardeners or carpenters – working physically and flexibly.

Will this result in a redistribution of wealth from knowledge workers to manual workers? That remains to be seen. But the manual workers might have work – and feel engaged and rewarded by that work.

Not Good Enough

The UK Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) suggests the productivity picture might finally be starting to change.

The EEF recently unveiled some mixed findings. On the positive front, its report – Productivity: the state of the manufacturing nation – revealed that over six in ten UK manufacturers (64%) achieved productivity growth in the past two years, while 57% expect to make further gains in the next two. It also points out that manufacturing’s productivity growth outpaced the service sector and the UK economy as a whole in the two decades to 2014, suggesting that, while the manufacturing sector might not have the size and critical mass it once had, it is an altogether leaner animal than in days gone by.

However, the key message from the EEF would appear to be that manufacturers cannot rest on their laurels – indeed, almost half of manufacturers (49%) questioned by said the UK manufacturing’s productivity lags behind competitor nations.

So, reasonable progress but the report card suggests “Could do better”

Brave New World?

How will the Internet of Things (IoT) impact on productivity – of different sectors

We know that lots of (mainly technology) companies are betting big on IoT  - but is this investment wise?

For consumers, developments like smart thermostats, smart lighting and so on are interesting – but how compulsive a purchase are they?  The ability to control my lights from my hone is pointless if I am not at home and unnecessary if I am.

Of course, I’m probably missing the point, failing to see the ‘vision’  Perhaps IoT is not a consumer-led change … perhaps it is industry that will reap the benefits.

I need to go now – and think about the brave new world.  Perhaps you do too. All of the investment going on will drive change – but not necessarily in planned directions.  The winners will be those that first spot the twists, turns and diversions on the road ahead.


Failure is not an option.

The USA recently held National Agriculture Day.

A key concern expressed by many of those participating this year was the need for greater investments in the very foundation of American agriculture: the research, development and extension services required to maintain the high productivity and environmental sustainability of American farmers and ranchers and to provide sufficient nutritious food, fibre and biofuel for a growing world.

Challenges include the multiyear drought in California and many Western states; threats from disease affecting livestock, poultry and citrus crops; nutrition and obesity-related health issues; and a troubling shortage of young farmers and veterinarians choosing agriculture as a profession.

But we cannot afford to fail – the global population will rise by 2.3 billion by 2050.  We have to feed all those people!

My secret of success?

What are the secrets to productivity development at the national level?

Well, after many years experience in a range of countries, I would have to say “Don’t ask me”.

There is no panacea, no golden bullet.

If I had to offer any advice, it would be to ;

  • Get the macroeconomy right – reduce regulation, open up markets
  • Invest in infrastructure (especially communications – roads, ports, airports – and telecommunications)
  • Invest in skills  (basic, vocational and technical).
  • Be lucky!

Does it make you happy?

A number of agencies, and even countries, have attempted to create measures of ‘happiness’ – as an alternative to using GDP to value the work undertaken by people.

This needs further work – but shows some promise. Lots of activity is currently not ‘caught’ in official GDP figures.  The work of volunteers, for example … or the work of people that goes into ‘free’ services.  When you use ‘free’ apps on your smartphone of tablet, your work might be ,more productive – and this might contribute to a ‘better’ GDP figure …. but often it won’t.

The whole point of productivity is to make people more ‘wealthy’ – but we need to measure wealth in ways that reflects the priorities of citizens and workers.  If people value leisure time over consumer goods, we might prioritise reduced working hours over increased GDP – and we might prefer to measure something like ‘well-being’ (or even ‘happiness’) over simple economic activity.


The UK Office for National Statistics has just issued time series data for labour productivity across a number of years and for a number of sectors.  Quite interesting (for productivity nerds like me) but ultimately unhelpful in so far as the level of aggregation is so high that it has no effect on behaviour or future performance.

What the government needs to know is … What do we need to do to make the data move in the right direction?

Interpreting this data – to result in strategy – is difficult.

The old adage – You get what you measure – fails at this level of aggregation.

First Bahrain

Some of you will now that I have been in Bahrain for the last week helping prepare for the World Productivity Congress which will be held here in November. (see for details.)

Conversations obviously covered the productivity of Bahrain and its move towards becoming a post-oil economy.  Lots of Bahrainis look at Dubai as a possible model – creating an exciting, vibrant economy without oil revenue.  But Bahrain should not be looking to be a second Dubai – but a first Bahrain.  It has lots of advantages: it is a relatively open, diverse society with a rich history and culture; it has a good technology infrastructure; it has an open economy with no taxes on the movement of capital; most Bahrainis speak English- the international language of business.

What Bahrain has to do now is to find a ‘usp’ – an area of economic activity that it can make its own and that builds on existing strengths.

We are hoping that the World Productivity Congress will leave a legacy that will help transform Bahrain’s economy; the Board of the World Confederation of Productivity Science has offered to facilitate and participate in discussions with Bahrain’s leaders and development agencies to further those discussions.

The future starts in November.

I know I should keep out of politics but …

I am not a political animal – except insofar as I think I understand the role of government in creating the infrastructure required for productivity development (and have offered advice to quite a few governments over the years). 

However, I must day that I am astonished by the current political scene in the USA.

The Republican party seems to be doing its best to tear itself apart.

The only comment I will make on Donald Trump is that, from this distance, he seems to be a ‘populist’ – telling people what he thinks they want to hear – with little ideology backing up his rhetoric.

Hopefully if he ever got to power, he would moderate some of his views – and take advice from those with more political experience.

I fear if he does not, the USA is in for a period of instability -and falling productivity.

Race to the Bottom

The UK languishes at the bottom of most productivity league tables.  We seem to be a low skill, low performing country.  Lots of ‘good’ jobs have been taken out of the economy and replaced with part-time, low skill employment. 

The UK must start to invest in skills – and skill-based employment sectors.  Otherwise it will continue its ‘race to the bottom’ – lots of jobs but no satisfying employment or careers.

Will someone please tell George Osborne?