This is the only productivity blog you need!

I was browsing some ‘productivity blogs’ earlier this week – I use the inverted commas because many of them use the word ‘hack – or lifehacks – only using the word ‘productivity in the strapline or description.

One of them offered to remind me when to breathe to maintain my zen-like state – but I’ve been breathing quite successfully for many years so declined the advice.  If you read all of these blogs and tried to follow their advice, you would waste a lot of time… so read this blog and learn about real-world, real-life productivity as it affects organisations, nations and societies. 

I don’t say you won’t waste time – but it should be more interesting and more rewarding.

Double benefts

Japan has a new government initiative to boost the adoption of intelligent machines and robots – as part of a drive to improve industrial productivity. 

However, this has other benefits as well.

Mechanised workplaces are generally more suitable for female workers and for workers with disabilities – so improving automation supports greater workforce diversity .. and that provides another route to greater productivity.

If Music Be …

Companies have long used music to set rhythm for production lines – and to boost morale of employees. 

Now a new study by the University of Illinois confirms that people do respond – positively in productivity terms – to music

They suggest however that instrumentals are best – words can  interfere with language “tasks” which are part of the work.

Similarly,  music is more effective if it has a constant, easy beat and a light melody.

A report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology states that the Russian Academy of Sciences found that a person’s ability to recognize visual images, letters and numbers, is much faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.

So – play on!


On the Internet, you get lots of tips about productivity – and what are called ‘ productivity hacks’ (really just more tips).

However you and I know that what brings about higher productivity is structure – to organisations, systems, processes, working methods – structure based on an analysis of need and then an identification of how that need can be best met.

This can take time – but it will be rewarded and will be much more effective than trying to apply the latest ‘hack’.

Think about building a building. You need form foundations and sound construction. Productivity is similar. Take the time to structure the ‘edifice’ soundly.

The same is true of Productivity. You have to build a firm set of structures that can support high performance working. There are no real shortcuts.

Climate change – need for crop redesign?

Is climate change happening? Yes.

Is it man’s fault – down to greenhouse ‘emissions’? Possibly.

It does not matter what the cause is – we have to accept it is happening.

There are lots of implications – some of them potentially catastrophic.

Some parts of the world that are currently the world’s bread (or fruit) baskets may end up with much lower yields unless they can introduce new varieties of the crops they produce.

So, we might need genetic engineering to maintain yields in areas of changing climate.

Can man’s ingenuity and innovation beat climate change?

We have to hope so.

Hope I’m wrong!

The Taiwan government is planning to spend NT$36 billion (US$1.12 billon) over the next nine years as part of its Productivity 4.0 project to elevate Taiwan’s status in the global supply chain, Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou said recently.

Over the period, the government will spend NT$4 billion (US$124.4 million) each year on electronics/information technology, metals, transportation, machinery, foodstuffs, textiles, distribution and agriculture, helping to build smart factories to realize massive but diversified production, Ma said.

It is hoped that by 2024, the per capita productivity of Taiwan’s manufacturing industries will have grown 60% compared with last year to NT$10 million (US$310,900), said the president.

Now, if I were a betting man (which I’m not) I would put money on failure … though I hope I’m wrong. Government’s job is to build infrastructure (especially the right macroeconomic climate) and then ‘get out of the way.


All companies have limited funds to invest in new projects. (Well, perhaps Apple has all the money it needs.)

And this inevitably means that those companies have to prioritise certain projects over others.

Unfortunately too many firms seem to concentrate on physical assets -new buildings, new technology, new equipment – and forget about new knowledge and new skills.

Too few business leaders believe what they say when they utter those words “Our people are our greatest asset”.

Start investing

Businesses seem to be unwilling to invest in new facilities and even new skills for their employees.

I think part of the reason is that investors have become used to the rollercoaster of the tech boom and bust cycle. 

On the one hand, many expect new technology to keep arriving and providing them with relatively cheap productivity gains.

Others are reluctant to invest as they see new tech as a ‘fad’, rather than as a proper contribution to improved performance. 

It is time to see productivity improvement as a ‘journey’ not a destination. Like all journeys, it needs planning snd preparation … but above all it needs a clear route. It also needs energy and focus – it won’t just happen.  And it needs resourcing – in needs the development of infrastructure and skills, of thought and ideas.

Let’s focus our energies, and our investments, on improving productivity – we can make the difference.

What about Google and Yahoo?

Last week I talked about the problem of national productivity measurement when we fail to count lots of ‘intangibles.

Musing further, I got to thinking  about companies like Google and Yahoo who give away many of their services for free (at least to the end user at point of use). Google and Yahoo put lots of energy and resources into these services – and they clearly benefit the US economy – but they don’t get counted in the official GDP figure.

This situation clearly affects the US – but also lots of other developed countries.

We need to think again about how we measure national productivity.

Balance the right factors

When coming up with the Balanced Scorecard concept, Kaplan & Norton reminded us of the need for balanced measurement – focusing on a number of important factors.

Yet when we measure and discuss national productivity, it is almost always in the context of a single measure – GDP per employee or employee-hour.

There is a growing view that this measure is not just ‘unbalanced’ but out-of-date.  It is a measure very suitable for older, manufacturing-based economies but fails to recognise the nuances of knowledge-based economies.

It ‘counts’ tangible assets within GDP (cars, widgets, fridges, etc) but does not gather data on intangible assets like patent portfolios, bright young people and so on.

Financiers and investors have moved on.  When they value a start-up, they do not value the physical assets –  but the intangible, intellectual assets and intellectual property – the ideas.

So, perhaps we need to catch up – and establish measures of national productivity that are suitable for this – and future – centuries.