Standard terminology, at least in the non-profit sector, refers to employees as overhead.
This needs to change.
People are not overhead. People are the force that makes any company effective. That is not overhead.
Matthew Kelly and Peter Drucker make this point better than I ever could:
It has been almost forty years since Peter Drucker observed the single greatest error of our accounting system: people are placed in the liability column on the balance sheet. Machinery and computers are categorized as assets and people as liabilities. The reality, of course, is that the right people are an organization’s greatest asset. (Matthew Kelly, The Dream Manager, page 2.)
Of course, just about everyone is willing to say “people are our greatest asset.” But largely this is still in the realm of theory–it hasn’t penetrated the way we actually work and think. Kelly goes on:
We may have acknowledged this truth in theory, but we have not allowed it to sufficiently penetrate the way we manage our organizations, and indeed, the way we manage the people who drive them.
One indication of the fact that we haven’t yet started taking seriously the reality that people are assets, not liabilities, is that we still use terms like “overhead” to describe them.
The other day I picked up a book called The Dream Manager. It’s another business parable, but it is very perceptive. (I had never been into business parables until I started reading Patrick Lencioni’s stuff, which is excellent.)
The book is about employee engagement:
The problem is, the great majority of people in the workplace today are actively disengaged. This is the dilemma that modern managers face. To varying extents, people don’t feel connected to their work, the organizations they work in, or the people they work with. No single factor is affecting morale, efficiency, productivity, sustainable growth, customer intimacy, and profitability than this disengagement. (The Dream Manager, page 1)
I agree completely. Employee disengagement is a tragedy and is pervasive in the modern workplace. A friend of mine often says of his company that “they pay you just enough to keep you from leaving.” What a horrible way to treat employees.
The biggest reason that employee disengagement is important is because of what it does to people. It creates the “quiet desperation” of the modern workforce that we see all around us. It also has a financial cost. I found it really interesting that this cost can actually be quantified:
If on average your employees are 75 percent engaged, disengagement is costing you 25 percent of your payroll every month in productivity alone. The real cost to your business is of course much higher when you take into account how disengaged employees negatively affect your customers and every aspect of your business. (Page 2)
There are some very effective, and simple, solutions to the problem of employee disengagement. I think it is one of needs of the hour, and in one sense that is going to be a major component of what this blog is going to be about. And for those interested in a helpful book on the topic in the meantime, The Dream Manager is proving to be a very good read.
When a person makes something complicated, it’s usually a sign that they don’t know what they’re doing.
I was reading more on Obama’s tax plan the other day, and it’s complicated.
Because they think the government needs to be doing more.
But why would we think that way? It’s like always letting your lawn grow, and never mowing it.
The government does not need to be doing more. It needs to be doing less. It should spend the next four years getting rid of things, not adding things.
Why doesn’t anyone campaign on what we should stop doing?
Why aren’t there more bills proposed for the sake of getting rid of laws and policies rather than adding new ones, as though more is always better and “doing something” is defined by how much you can add to a gargantuan pile of tangled policy?
And then when it comes to taxes, they can be left alone or simplified, allowing millions to keep more of their own money. And the result will actually be more effective.
Let the millions of creative, innovative, hard working individuals and companies in this nation keep more of their money, and there will be a much better “return” on that money for the nation as a whole than if we take it away and put it into an already overly complicated government system.
That’s fair — and simple.
I posted yesterday on how the key to making good decisions is to understand the guiding principles of the area. Everything else follows from those principles. So if you understand the guiding principles, you will be able to make good decisions.
This has significant implications for how to choose a president. For it means that you don’t need to go through the details on hundreds of different issues. You only need to know a few things in order to pick the best candidate for office.
So, here’s how to pick a president:
1. Determine the Major Issues
You don’t need to evaluate the candidates on 100 different issues. Everything rolls up into about 5-6 major categories. The top 3 are: economic policy, foreign policy, and social policy. These three areas (along with judicial appointments) encompass the bulk of the influence that a president has, and affect the nation in massive ways.
2. Determine Which Candidate Understands the Guiding Principles of Those Issues
You don’t need to drill down into thousands of details within the major issues. Instead, you simply need to know which candidate understands the governing principles on those issues. For if a leader gets the major guiding principles on an area, then the thousands of details involved in the area are going to fall in line as well. Not perfectly, of course. But far more fully than when the leader doesn’t get the major principles. Electing someone who does not grasp the guiding principles of economic policy, for example, is like hiring someone to fix your radiator who has no knowledge of mechanics and, worse, is using the wrong instruction manual.
When it comes to economic policy, the major guiding principle is to maximize freedom to the greatest extent possible. (I blogged on this yesterday so I won’t go into more detail on that here. Some really helpful books that flesh out this principle are Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose and Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics.) When it comes to foreign policy, one of the major principles is peace through strength. On social policy, the central function of government is to protect life.
So what you do, then, is ask yourself: Which candidate understands these fundamental, guiding principles of economics? Of foreign policy? And of social policy? Sometimes a candidate might not have the fundamentals down on all three areas, in which case you will have to prioritize which is most important. But generally, there is one candidate who totally blows it on all three, and the other candidate usually is fundamentally sound on at least two, if not all three, of these issues.
Now, we run into a problem here for those who feel that they themselves do not understand the fundamentals of economics, foreign policy, and social policy. My advice here is this: First, economic policy is more important than foreign policy. So if you have to choose, focus on economic policy over foreign policy. And it is not too difficult to come to a solid grasp of the fundamentals of economics. I would recommend reading one of the two books I mentioned above, or Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics 3rd Ed: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. You can also read Thomas Sowell’s columns online and get a good beginning grasp of things in about 30 minutes.
(By the way, Sowell points out that the basic principles of economics are not partisan–they are agreed on by economists of all stripes: “While there are controversies in economics, as there are in science, this does not mean that economics is just a matter of opinion. There are basic propositions and procedures in economics on which a Marxist economist like Oskar Lange did not differ in any fundamental way from a conservative economicst like Milton Friedman. It is these basic economic principles that this book is about” [Sowell, Basic Economics 2nd edition, 4]).
3. Consider Leadership Ability Last
Leadership is an integral characteristic of an effective president. But its consideration has to come last because it doesn’t matter how good of a leader someone is if they are leading in the wrong direction. More important than leadership ability is knowing where we should be going–that is, knowing the fundamental, guiding principles of sound economics, foreign policy, and social policy. In fact, I would say that knowing the right direction to be going is a fundamental characteristic of good leadership. Another reason that leadership ability should be considered last is because of the tendency to confuse charisma with leadership.
Last of all, vote. Don’t sit at home and say that neither candidate is your ideal. Good grief, when you grasp the fundamentals of economics you see that there is a huge divide between the candidates. Don’t settle for a mechanic who doesn’t know what he is doing simply because the other mechanic doesn’t match up to everything you would ideally have wanted to have in a candidate.
Some people are saying these days that if you aren’t informed on the issues, don’t vote. I don’t know if I agree with that or not. I’d rather say: Spend 2 hours familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of economics. Read some of Thomas Sowell’s columns if you feel like you are behind on this issue and aren’t up to speed. And then make sure to understand the fundamentals much better yourself when the next election comes around.
There are lots of different formal and informal approaches to making decisions. But at the end of the day making a good decision comes down to one thing: Knowing the fundamental governing principles of the area. Usually there is just one.
For example, as I posted earlier today, with the economic policy of a nation, the governing principle is to maximize people’s freedom to the greatest extent while preserving the rule of law. In deciding where to work, the guiding principle is: where can I have the greatest impact with the gifts I’ve been given? In managing an organization, the guiding principle is to make employees’ strengths productive for the performance of the organization while minimizing weaknesses.
Once you understand the governing principles of an area, most decisions fall into line. More on this in the days and months to come.
There is a great post on Seth Godin’s blog today by Sasha Dichter called In Defense of Raising Money: A Manifesto for NonProfit CEOs. Sasha makes the point that the actual act of raising awareness and funding for a non-profit’s cause does good for that cause and is a worthy endeavor:
Do you really believe that the “real work” is JUST the “programs” you operate? (the school you run; the meals you serve; the vaccines you develop; the patients you treat?) Do you really believe that it ends there? Do you really believe that in today’s world, where change can come from anyone and anywhere, that convincing people and building momentum and excitement and a movement really doesn’t matter?
And I love how he makes the point that has been on my mind for a long time: Non-profits do a service to those who give by providing a way for them to invest their money not for financial return, but for the good of others. This is as worthy an investment as anything you put in the stock market. More so. Both for-profits and and non-profits serve critical roles in society. Jim Collins has said this really well: “If all our society had was effective businesses, we would not be a great nation. We must have great social sector organizations, too.” Here is how Sasha Dichter puts it in the post:
Our society has done a spectacular job of creating enormous amounts of wealth. At the same time, wealth is associated with power, and not having wealth can feel like not having power. So going to someone who has money and saying, “You have the resources, please give some of them to me” doesn’t feel like a conversation between equals.
How about this instead: “You are incredibly good at making money. I’m incredibly good at making change. The change I want to make in the world, unfortunately, does not itself generate much money. But man oh man does it make change. It’s a hugely important change. And what I know about making this change is as good and as important as what you know about making money. So let’s divide and conquer – you keep on making money, I’ll keep on making change. And if you can lend some of your smarts to the change I’m trying to make, well that’s even better. But most of the time, we both keep on doing what we’re best at, and if we keep on working together the world will be a better place.
The guiding principle of sound governmental and economic policy is to maximize freedom. That’s it. Very simple. Government exists to protect freedom, not restrict it.
This is not only right in principle, but it also works better — when people are left free to make their own choices, greater prosperity results (and I don’t mean this simply in economic terms). When people are left free, their initiative and creativity and diligence are free to create and innovate and produce. When people are restricted by government policies and excess taxation, the incredible potential of the people is also restricted.
I’m not saying that the Republicans have done a good job of living up to this in the last eight years, but when it comes to the two candidates before us McCain is much more in line with this thinking than Obama. Yet he has not been able to make an effective case for his economic principles, and has not done a good job of countering the standard charge of “favoring the rich.”
What we need is a candidate — whether McCain now or someone else later — that simply explains these principles clearly. It’s not hard. I think that a candidate that could do this, and stay on this note, would win every time. McCain simply needs to say something like this:
I am not for keeping taxes low because I am looking out for the wealthy. I am for keeping taxes low precisely because I am looking out for the little guy.
When businesses are able to keep more of the money they earn, it gets invested in jobs and other productive endeavors. The result is that there are more jobs and a growing economy–things which benefit the middle class and the poor.
But if we increase taxes on business and higher income brackets, they do not have that money available to create jobs. Instead, it gets shifted to the government, which then uses it to create ineffective government programs to compensate for the fact that the economy is not producing enough jobs.
Politicians are really good at “coming to the rescue” when all they are really doing is solving problems of their own making. Let’s stop creating more problems, and stay out of the way. This country is great because of its people and the principle of liberty upon which it was founded. Let’s trust our people, stop interfering with their liberty, and let them live their lives. This is both the right thing to do and what is best for this nation’s economy. The American people will do far more good with their money than government ever can. Let them keep it.
He could even go on further and overcome some objections:
Sometimes these ideas have wrongly been accused of being “trickle-down economics.” But that is a straw man. As economist Thomas Sowell has argued, no economist in the history of the world has held to a notion of “trickle down” economics (see Sowell’s Basic Economics, pages 388-389 in the second edition). Instead, it is “trickle up,” because the business or entrepreneur investing in the economy and job creation is the last to get paid.
For example, a small business decides to add a position to their company. They incur expense to find the right person, train them, and have them continue the ropes for several weeks or months on the job. During this time, the business is incurring significant expense and not yet experiencing a return. When the position does start to become profitable, it remains the case that the employees are paid first, along with expenses such as rent, utilities, supplies, and production costs. Finally, the business receives as profit whatever is left at the end, after paying all of these things. This is not trickle-down; if anything, it is trickle-up. The business and entrepreneurs get paid last. What the business has done is in fact admirable and, as Michael Novak argues in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in some sense heroic. This is a good thing. We should not penalize the ability to do this through our tax code.
McCain could also go on to point out that this is not about materialism or greed:
Very often, people misrepresent the free market and capitalism as being about “greed” or “materialism.” I join you in saying greed is evil and materialism is empty. No thank you. But capitalism is not driven by greed. Sure, some people are, and capitalism forces their greed to be funneled to the good of society, because in order to make any profit at all, you have to think first about how to serve your customer. So capitalism is actually a very powerful check on greed, forcing it to serve the benefit of the common good.
But most people are not so thoughtlessly driven by greed, and capitalism is not about greed and it does not depend upon greed to work. Capitalism is about freedom, which means enabling people to pursue projects of interest to them; endeavors and initiatives which are of their own choosing. Capitalism is about being able to undertake what you choose, not what the government tells you to do, and to do it for whatever reason you want.
For most people, their aim is not selfish gain, but to serve their families and make their communities better. In capitalism you might choose to earn all the money you can for selfish reasons. But just as many people — in fact, more — are simply seeking to make an honest living, serve their families, and give some of what they earn to do good for the world.
In fact, capitalism doesn’t have to be about making money at all. You can choose to start a non-profit to fight AIDS in Africa, or a soup kitchen to fight hunger in your city, or an innovative new organization like Kiva. The whole point of capitalism is freedom: let people do what they choose. And multiple, numerous, incredibly creative initiatives will result that are good for society on all fronts, both economically and non-economically.
McCain could then tie it all together by closing something like this:
My campaign exists to make this vision of freedom thrive. These are the ideals that have enabled our people to prosper and serve over the last two hundred years and, yes, even grow in virtue. We don’t want to go through four years under a regime whose ideology distrusts your freedom and thinks that it is centrally planned government policies that make our nation great rather than the people themselves. Economic freedom and political freedom go hand in hand. If you are not economically free, you are not politically free. Vote for someone that will keep you free.
The Mind Tools website is filled with great resources for excelling in your career. Their section on decision-making summarizes lots of helpful tools for making decisions, such as grid analysis for selecting between good options and PMI (pluses, minuses, implications) for weighing the pros and cons of a decision.
Gallup has a helpful article on how Americans Oppose Income Redistribution to Fix Economy. “Americans overwhelmingly — by 84% to 13% — prefer that the government focus on improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans.”
This extends across parties and income levels:
Americans’ lack of support for redistributing wealth to fix the economy spans political parties: Republicans (by 90% to 9%) prefer that the government focus on improving the economy, as do independents (by 85% to 13%) and Democrats (by 77% to 19%). This sentiment also extends across income groups: upper-income Americans prefer that the government focus on improving the economy and jobs by 88% to 10%, concurring with middle-income (83% to 16%) and lower-income (78% to 17%) Americans.
It has been said on the campaign trail a couple of times now that those making over $250,000/year can “afford” to pay more in taxes. There are lots and lots of problems with this thinking. First among them is that the issue is not about what citizens can “afford,” but about what the government has a right to do with people’s money. Another issue is that this statement wrongly assumes that the government can utilize that money more effectively than the individual who earned it. We’ll talk about these things more in future posts on making good decisions in the economic and political realms. (In the meantime, I highly recommend Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics 3rd Ed: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy.)
But if we want to talk about fairness, Hugh Hewitt made an excellent point last Friday in his post on Obama’s plan to “share the wealth:”
What Obama doesn’t understand is that behind every small business that gets to the level he where he wants to slam new taxes on it, are years and sometimes decades of hard work and low, if any, profits, deferred dreams, and large debts that need to be paid from today’s success as well as tomorrow’s retirement plan to fund.
Most of my life I’ve been wondering, far in the back of my mind, if another spell like the Great Depression or the misery index of the 1970s would hit. This probably stems in part from the media (they always seem to be talking about the dangers of a recession, whether the economy is doing well or struggling), and in part from thinking that events like the Great Depression are random or periodic necessities of the business cycle that are completely out of our control.
The recent financial crisis has motivated me to look into the causes of the Great Depression more fully. The chair of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, is actually an expert on it, and his book Essays on the Great Depression is very good. He points out that “to understand the Great Depression is the Holy Grail of macro-economics.” One accomplishment of the book is to show the very significant role that governmental monetary policy–rather than just the standard business cycle–played in causing and continuing the depression.
In fact, there is a good amount of literature out there making a good case that the actions of the federal government were responsible for making the Great Depression much deeper and longer than it would have been otherwise. This makes sense from an understanding of the basic principles of economics. Perhaps the best summary of this comes from Jim Powell’s book FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, which is also proving to be an excellent read.
Here is Powell’s summary:
I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the Great Depression as we know it was avoidable. Better policies could have prevented the bank failures which accelerated the contraction of the money supply and brought on the Great Depression. The Great Depression could have been over much more quickly–the United States recovered from the severe 1920 depression in about a year. Chronic high unemployment persisted during the 1930s because of a succession of misguided New Deal policies.
A principal lesson for us today is that if economic shocks are followed by sound policies, we can avoid another Great Depression. A government will best promote a speedy business recovery by making recovery the top priority [FDR's administration made "reform of capitalism," not recovery, its top priority], which means letting people keep more of their money, removing obstacles to productive enterprise, and providing stable money and a political climate where investors feel that it’s safe to invest for the future.”
Here we have a large example of the effect that making bad decisions can have on people.
Here’s one of the most basic productivity functions of all, and yet probably most of us never think about how we do it: Getting the mail.
I actually have to go get the mail right now. Why don’t I go do that, and then I’ll come back and summarize how I go through it.
Processing the Mail is the Same as Processing Your In-Box
OK, here we go. First, I’d normally actually just put it in my in-box, since it’s the middle of the afternoon, and process it the next time I process my in-box. And that’s the first point: The mail is just another form of input to be processed along with every other form of input you get. So in one sense I could stop this post right now, because getting the mail really reduces to processing your in-box. But, I will continue.
The Three Rules of Processing Stuff
Second, I go through the items one by one (very quickly). Looks like I have about 15 items. David Allen gives the three cardinal rules of processing, which apply here:
- Process the top item first
- Process one item at a time
- Never put anything back into in
The Two Questions when Processing Anything
Third, with each item I ask myself two questions: What is this? and What’s the next action? This is because before you can know what to do with something, you need to know what it is. Once you know what it is, you can determine how to handle it (that is, define the next action).
When No Action is Required
With most stuff, this is easy and takes about 0.25 seconds. Some things have no actions required. For example, an item of junk mail gets trashed.
Handling Quick Actions: The Two Minute Rule
Some things involve very quick actions. With these I apply David Allen’s “two minute rule”: if you can do it in two minutes or less, do it right away. So a newsletter or such from an organization I give to gets a quick look, for example, and then I toss it (or determine the larger action required by it and process it accordingly).
Handling Longer than Two Minute Actions
Then there are some things that involve more than 2 minutes of action. I have something in this category before me right now: the statement for my money market account. I have actually noticed that 90% of my 2-minute plus actions that come up fall into 1 of 6 categories. I’ve set up a group of pending files for these: bills to pay, notes to process, receipts to enter, other financial to enter, to read, and to file. This one falls into the “other financial to enter” category—I need to reconcile this with my Quicken–, so I put it in that file. (I go through those files every Saturday, by the way—I wouldn’t put anything in an action file without a regularly scheduled task to actual dispense of those actions. I put these regularly scheduled actions on my “action calendar,” which I’ll talk about down the road)
Now I have before me two post cards that the grandparents sent to our kids (ages 5 and 3) while they were on their trip to DC. I put these to my right in a temporary “out” pile, which is where I put stuff that I need to give to my wife or kids or take somewhere else in the house.
The next item is my 2009 vehicle tabs. Here I have two things to do: The stickers themselves go in my “out” box, and I will put them on my car when I take that stuff to where it goes. But I also want to keep the registration card that came with them, so I put that in my “to file” pile.
The next item is something from Dish Network saying I have to upgrade my DVR with these new smart cards they’ve sent, or it will stop working in two weeks. Good grief. This is why life is so complicated and we need productivity systems in the first place.
Now I have my IRA statement. There is a newsletter with an article on “what you need to know about bear markets,” which I’ll give 10 seconds to. There is also an update to the “custodial agreement” (whatever that is). In previous years I probably would have filed that with my IRA stuff, but I’m getting tired of the information glut, so I’m just going to throw that away. I put the actual statement into my “other financial to enter” file.
Now I have my mortgage statement. We’re not on automatic withdrawal because we plan on moving soon and I wanted to save the time of setting that up. Not sure if that actually saved me time, but oh well. I put the bottom portion in my “bills to pay” file and the actual statement in my “to file” pile.
There are a few magazines that I put in my “to read file,” and now I’m done. Now what I’m going to do is quickly take my “out” stuff where it goes (put the post cards for our kids in my wife’s in box, the tabs on the car, and that smart card in my DVR), file my “to file” stuff, and get on with my day. On Saturday morning I’ll clear out the two minute plus actions that I put into my “other financial to enter” and “bills to pay” files.
Nothing this time involved a project (a more-than-two-action outcome) or had to go on my next action list. Down the road I’ll be posting some about those lists and how to use them effectively.
I was at the Catalyst 2008 conference at the end of last week. The speakers included some top-notch business thinkers, including Jim Collins, Seth Godin, and Tim Sanders. Andy Stanley gave a very useful talk based around five really intriguing quotes. Here are a few of them:
“What do I believe is impossible to do in my field…but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?”
“If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Why shouldn’t we walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?”
“When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near.”
Here’s what I like about these quotes: They focus not only on doing existing things better, but on doing new things altogether. We need more people thinking along these lines.
There are a lot of blogs on productivity. So why start another one?
This comes down to the question of the angle this blog will take. There are a lot of great productivity blogs out there. Lifehacker hits productivity from the technological angle, Merlin Mann at 43 Folders writes about how to find the time and attention to do your best creative work, and Timothy Ferris writes about experiments in lifestyle design. So what’s my angle?
The most basic answer is that I am looking at productivity through the lens of decision-making. Being productive and effective is about making good decisions. Your calendar and projects list, if you have them, are ultimately decision-making tools.
The angle of this blog is also unique in the way it will try to tie together some divergent themes that nonetheless need to go together. Here are the things I want to tie together in this blog:
- Personal productivity and organizational productivity.
- The runway and the 50,000 foot level.
- Sound thinking and helpful action.
- The past and the future.
Tying Together Personal Productivity and Organizational Productivity
This is what I talked about in part 1 of this article and in my post “Broadening the Concept of Productivity.” In sum, I think productivity is not just about making ourselves more effective, but about knowing what will make our organizations and communities and society more effective. So I’m going to talk about not only how we can be more productive as individuals, but also how our organizations and communities can be more effective as well.
Tying Together the Runway and the 50,000 Foot Level
Here’s my productivity journey in a nutshell: David Allen’s Getting Things Done opens up a whole new world. Yet there are a few “snags” that I think the system has (which can be overcome). One of the snags is that GTD is great at the runway and 10,000 foot level (projects), but is less developed at the 20,000 foot and above level (roles, goals, and mission).
Stephen Covey’s books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First, on the other hand, are superb at the 20,000 foot and above level. Yet they are weak in laying out a workable system for translating those plans into action at the project and next action levels.
What is needed is a productivity approach that synthesizes the best of Allen and Covey. I think I’ve done this for my own productivity system that I’ve built for managing my own life, and will be blogging a lot on how these two perspectives fit together. The result is a system of thinking that successfully ties the big picture (20,000 foot and above) to the every day (the runway of next actions and 10,000 foot level of projects).
Tying Together Sound Thinking and Helpful Action
In one sense it’s a bit odd that I’ve named this blog What’s Best Next, because that sounds almost like all I care about is what we do, when in reality I am a firmly believer of the primacy of thought. Not as a replacement for action, but as the director and leader of what we actually do. I think we make the best decisions on what to do when we understand the guiding principles of an area.
This is in now way, in no way, to say that thought alone is sufficient. It is to say that the most effective actions stem ultimately from the way we think, and if you approach anything piecemeal, you are unlikely to get good results. I love this quote from Roger Martin’s book The Opposable Mind: “Instead of attempting to learn from observing the actions of leaders, I prefer to swim upstream to the antecedent of doing: thinking. My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions” (The Opposable Mind, p. 19). Great thinking is the seedbed of great actions. This blog is about what’s best next, not just what’s next.
Tying Together the Past and the Future
And of course this blog is not only about what’s best next, but also what’s best next. We are looking ahead—both far off to what are the most productive actions for the long-term, as well as how to make the best decision about what to literally do next.
I love how Jim Collins relates that when he would ask Peter Drucker what the favorite book he wrote was, Drucker would always say “the next one.” That’s how I think: the best things are always to come. And knowing what’s best next requires knowing what came before. We have a ton to learn from the past. I want to think of what’s best, next, in the context of the whole.
A lot of the advice I read on starting a blog said to narrow your topic as much as possible. That is good advice. But in one sense I’ve chosen to do the reverse.
I think we need to broaden the concept of productivity. Instead of thinking mainly in terms of making ourselves productive, we also need to think in terms of making our organizations and society more effective. This is really one of the ultimate goals, and most exciting things. The goal of personal productivity does not terminate on yourself, but is a means to being a useful person who makes the world a better place.
Hence, I define productivity as not only making yourself more effective, but making others more effective—our organizations, our communities, and our society.
This blog is about two things: (1) how to best manage our lives and work and (2) how to best think about the way that the businesses and non-profits that we work for should be run. I guess we can call these two things “personal productivity” and “organizational productivity.”
Originally I wanted to start this blog 4 years ago and focus on personal productivity. I had read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and put together a planning system to help me keep on top of my goals, projects, and next actions, and wanted to blog about that. I also found that the concepts for organizing time and tasks easily expanded into best practices for managing space, such as your desk or garage or kitchen. I thought that it would be pretty fun and helpful to blog on how to manage your time, projects, and space—basically, your life. But of course…I never had the time.
Now it’s 4 years later and I’ve been doing a lot of reading on and gaining experience about managing organizations. I read about 50-100 books a year, and for the last couple of years business and management (“organizational productivity”) have been my major focus. I think Peter Drucker is right that the greatest challenge of this century is to make knowledge work productive. Most of us are knowledge workers these days, yet most organizations are not managing knowledge workers effectively. They are using practices from the industrial economy to manage the knowledge economy. The result is incredible loss of potential (the authors of Mobilizing Minds estimate this in the hundreds of billions of dollars) and, worse, the quiet desperation of our workforce. A massive number of people feel that their work lacks significance, and slog through their day just to make a living. But there is a better way.
Broadening the Concept of Productivity
So the question I asked myself was: Should I blog on how to manage our lives better or what it would look like for the organizations we work for to be managed more effectively? And, of course, my answer was: “both.”
For these are really two sides of the same coin. Those who lead organizations cannot be effective if they do not know how to manage themselves and all the input that we all face every day. Likewise, if we are effective in managing ourselves, that is not the whole picture. The point of personal productivity is to be a useful person—and this implies that we all have an interest in understanding what makes organizations effective and how we can bring the businesses and non-profits that we work for farther along that path.
So the meaning of productivity is much more broad than just making ourselves more effective. It includes what we do with that–how we can make our organizations and society more effective.
This is Exciting
I think this is exciting. We have a chance to not only become more effective in our own lives, but to help our organizations and, ultimately, society become more effective and useful. I asked my wife if she would rather read a blog about personal productivity or doing things better in business and management. She is a nurse who currently stays home with our kids, so she doesn’t deal with the whole organizational management side of things. Yet she said, “Both. It’s all relevant to me when you talk about it, because I see how the organizational side of things affects me and the people who work in organizations.” I hope that you all have the same experience reading this blog, whether you lead an organization, work in middle management, are just starting out, or are even a stay-at-home mom.