Remember the Intangibles
The tendency to focus only on immediate, directly measurable results is a common productivity fallacy for individuals and organizations.
Way back in 1982 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman termed this “the numerative bias,” and gave example after example of how a narrow concern for numbers leads managers and leaders to overlook the things that really make their products and services shine—and thus leads them to do things to “cut costs” and increase the bottom line that actually end up undermining their results in the long-term.
This is the great irony: defining productivity mainly in terms of immediate measurable results actually undermines the measurable results in the long-run.
The time and energy and resources you invest in the intangibles is not lost; it is not a “cost of doing business.” It’s an investment that pays substantial returns in the long run. It’s just that you can’t always draw a direct and immediate line to the results. But the results are there, and the connection is there, just as the farmer who sows a crop in the spring sees results—not immediately, but in the fall, when it’s time to harvest.
We too need to have this longterm view when it comes to our effectiveness and productivity, both as individuals and as organizations.
One example here for the knowledge worker is attending conferences or industry events. I believe that all knowledge workers should go to every conference they can because these are prime opportunities to connect with people, benefit from excellent teachers, and share ideas—essential to knowledge work. But many think that going to a conference is a luxury or bonus, something to do only if you can get your other, “real” work done.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Going to conferences is a key part of the work of any leader and manager. It is one of the many intangibles at the heart of knowledge work in our day.
Adapted from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. See also Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, especially chapter 6, “Close to the Customer,” where they note that high performing companies are “mainly oriented toward the value, rather than the cost, side of the profitability equation,” and chapter 2, “The Rational Model.” See also my article, Against Over-professionalism in Management: Managing for the Human Side