Might efficiency be the enemy of productivity?
I’m a bit of a contrarian at heart, especially when it comes to received wisdom on business. You know, how businesses should and shouldn’t operate and the singular focus on profit maximisation. Or pay people more, work them harder and you’ll get better business results. Maybe not.
I’m often reminded of one of my mum’s favourite mantra’s when I was a child -“Festina Lente my boy” she’d say when I was running about as a child, or even when I was the busy corporate executive. It’s Latin for “Hasten Slowly” and was evidently the motto of Marcus Aurelias. Yes, an apparent juxtaposition, but it feels like very sound advice for the modern business environment. Indeed, an increasing amount of research seems to support this.
For example, I came across a fascinating new book by Annie Murphy Paul called the “The Extended Mind” which starts to challenge our assumptions about how our minds actually work — or don’t in my cases. We traditionally see ourselves like walking computers who, like most electronic devices, are expected to perform at the same level for hours on end, in any particular environment and at any time of the day. Murphy Paul argues that the human mind is in fact very different and that performance is much more contextual. We work differently when exposed to unusual environments, when in different bodily states or indeed mental states.
The irony is that all the tools that we’ve polished up in business for promoting efficiency and effectiveness may in actual fact be counter-productive and inhibiting our ability to think creatively. There’s been such a relentless focus on efficiency in the corporate world over the past decade. It’s everything from ever shorter lunch breaks — if you take a break at all — to accelerated processes.. Shaving hours, minutes or event seconds off some activity or other must surely have a positive impact on the bottom line? Time is money after all.
Perhaps not. The book argues that greater efficiency can often be the enemy of greater productivity. The activities that have tended to be frowned upon or dismissed in business e.g. play, rest, relaxation, which can often get you labelled a slacker, are actually crucial to our well-being and creativity. We’ve been programmed to sit at our desks in offices for hours on end — nowadays increasingly behind a zoom screen. And yet our bodies are genetically wired for movement. We may think better when we’re standing up or walking, especially if we’re in nature with all of its restorative and expansive power. There is evidently a strong correlation between physical movement and increased creativity.
Noise in an open plan office can be distracting but in nature it can have the opposite effect. The leaves rustling in the wind, the sound of a river or birdsong cause what psychologists term “soft fascination” which is actually good for our minds and supports the way our minds work assembling thoughts and ideas from many different sources. It may sound counter intuitive, but when you’re tight on time and struggling with a difficult challenge, the best thing you can do might be to go out for a slow walk.
* The Bullog = Bulloch + Blog
Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.