Productivity: Is the digital revolution a distraction?

If we don’t focus our attention on our thinking, we are at a serious disadvantage. Of course you could just carry on dong what you are doing – and get used to those long working hours and the stress that comes with it. Put simply, real revolution begins with the individual not the technology.

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We like to think we can control the future

As a former senior professional working in a FTSE 100 organisation, I was part of an industry culture in which thousands of hours are spent working on planning, monitoring, and organising change. Systems, roles, structures are all brought together to focus on outcomes, most likely scenarios, modelling, forecasting and change management. We mitigate risks, manage assumptions and dependencies, align resource and maximise resource with one common goal – to predict and control the future. This gives us certainty. It instils confidence in our shareholders and our stakeholders as we set out our vision and demonstrate how we will take control and own our future destiny.

And yet predictions are not always true

Fast forward a few years in my role as a director of the Resilience Development Company. Recently I was in a 1:1 resilience coaching session when I was struck by what I was told by my client Peter. As a retired accountant he pointed out to me that at school he was told to expect to have much more leisure time than his parents. He was sold a vision of a future driven by the digital revolution where leaps in productivity meant less work and more play. With a 20+ age gap between us both, I find this hard to believe but he assures me it’s true.

So what happened? – We are working longer and harder than ever before

According to recent estimates, more of us are working longer and producing less than our G7 counterparts and that difference is pretty dramatic. In the UK we produce on average 30% less per hour than workers in Germany, the US and France and 10% less than the average Italian.

This matters because we could be taking Friday off and to be honest I’d welcome Friday off

The more productive we are, the more money we earn, as individuals, as families, as a country. Professor John Van Reenan, Head of The Centre at The London School of Economics puts it very simply when he says, “By Thursday lunchtime the other countries have produced as much as it takes us to produce by the end of Friday afternoon.” So basically, we could take every Friday off if we could be as productive of those countries, and earn the same amount of money. Or we could keep working the same amount of hours and earn 30% more. You decide. I know which one I’d prefer.

In our quest to be more productive, have we become over reliant on technology?

We undoubtedly live in a world of technology and the digital revolution has brought many advantages with it. Flick open any App store on any platform and you’ll see plenty of products designed to improve your output. Walk into any reasonable size organisation and I guarantee there will be a major IT “flagship” project on a quest to improve productivity. Look at any government manifesto and it will include investment in technology alongside management and education. The problem with all of this is that technology is just a tool and any tool takes time and experience to fulfil it’s potential. Take computers for example; they are held up as the beacon of productivity and indeed they are, but it’s taken us at least twenty years to truly get there and it didn’t happen overnight.

So what’s the solution?

Thinking differently is the fastest way to gain a productivity leap. A step change in productivity is often driven by changing the way individuals, teams and organisations thinks, rather than the tools they use. In particular, empowering people to shift their own mind-set and skill set to tackle failure and setbacks head on has a big impact. When teams and individuals have this, the barriers take on a very different meaning. Ask anyone who works in a charity, is self-employed or fully engaged in what they are doing. It doesn’t matter how big the barrier, or what people say, that barrier is an opportunity with thorns on, something to be tackled. But tackled with thinking and supported by tools. And do you know something else? Not only do you get a productivity leap but overall wellbeing improves too so it’s a double whammy. In a nutshell, it’s productivity that is sustainable.

The digital revolution is a distraction

If we don’t focus our attention on our thinking, we are at a serious disadvantage. Of course you could just carry on dong what you are doing – and get used to those long working hours and the stress that comes with it. Put simply, real revolution begins with the individual not the technology:

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”

Jim Morrison

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