Are we really productive? What would Dan Say?

I’ve got a lot of time for Dan Pink. Not just because he’s a best-selling author 6 times over, or because he uses a combination of research and examples to bring his stories to life, but because he tackles some of the fundamental struggles of modern work and the foundations that we might just have got wrong.


If you’ve been distracted with Harry, Megs, and Oprah, and asleep for the previous 12 years, you may have missed Dan’s HUGE impact TED talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation”, and the intriguing elements of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. It’s been viewed like a gazzilion times, and even made into an RSA animate. Interestingly, this was the very first time I’d heard of an Aussie start-up called Atlassian…but that is a different story.


So the question I asked above, is what would Dan say about Productivity.


Taken from Dan’s podcast with the amazing Jay Shetty.


“Let’s talk about what productivity is. I’m going to be literal. Productivity is the amount of units you produce over a given amount of time. So it is inherently time-based because time is in the denominator of productivity. OK, so so again, I’m not sure that productivity is necessarily the best measure. I say that as a writer. OK, so I could be like I could be a product like suppose I wrote more words per hour today versus yesterday. I would literally be more productive. But am I a better writer? I don’t know. It probably doesn’t matter. Like, what are the words?”

Dan rightly points out that this is a slightly old-school and mass production way of thinking about work, and a potentially more effective way could be “the quality of the contribution and the subsequent impact”.


The current narrative

Open any business news, HBR or Forbes, and you’ll see someone waxing lyrical about the “our people are more productive at home” phenomena. I’ve currently got a list of unanswered questions for these writers and observers?


How are you measuring productivity, especially of knowledge workers?

Are you measuring the individual, team, or organization productivity?

What is the trade off’s of higher productivity? The unintended consequences?

Where does our obsession with productivity come from? Is it even relevant anymore?


The Data; correlation or causation?

So one particular article I read this week, on HBR, cited a 13% increase in productivity.