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 Slow Professor|
For someone who has been preaching the merits of deceleration this of course is music to my ears. What seems intuitively right now seems to be getting backed up by research.
Indeed, Delphine Depy Carron (Craigberoch Cast member with a PhD in neuroscience) and I had a fascinating call with Giana Eckhardt, Professor of Marketing at Kings’ College, London. She’s ethnographically studied deceleration with people on the popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain and describes it in the following way:
“Consumer declaration is a perception of a slowed-down temporal experience achieved via a decrease in certain quantities (travelled distance, use of technology, experienced episodes) per unit of time through altering, adopting, or eschewing forms of consumption. Consumers decelerate in three ways: embodied, technological, and episodic”
I was keen to see if Giana would be open to going beyond consumers to employees and interested in exploring links between deceleration and creativity, innovation and well-being. She seemed open to that and I hope will come to our “living laboratory” Decelerator Labs in the Autumn when some of you might have the chance to meet her.
|Speaking of which, I hope you got our flyers and I have had the chance to take a look or even sign up for a programme. Here are the dates once again just in case..|
|Decelerator Labs (10-13 Sept, 8-12 Nov)|
Our new improved flagship event will run over a weekend and again during the working week in November. Building on our successful 2019 pilot, these events will be immersive and, we believe, transformative experiences for all participants
DOWNLOAD FLYER HERE
“Co-being” Residencies (6-10 Sept, 13-17 Sept, 1-5 Nov)
Co-being residencies: Our term for a more self-directed work week, providing a change of scene and a chance to reset the work/life balance. “WeeWork in the Woods” as someone jokingly called it. (See what I did there?)
DOWNLOAD FLYER HERE
The good news is that the restrictions to get in and out of the UK seem to be getting easier.
|In the lion’s den|
I had a very interesting and enjoyable interview with the She Leads Change network meeting and am grateful to my friend Nicola Millsen for the invitation. This is a very powerful woman only network for peer learning in a trusted space. I did feel a bit like Daniel in the lion’s den as the only man invited to attend. I had an excellent interviewer called Eleanor Saunders who focussed on my experience with mental health and we talked about how vulnerability can often be a source of strength. Talking to a bunch of strangers about your own apparent mental breakdown is not easy, believe me. I find myself asked to do that quite often as regular Bullogers will know. However in many ways, I now feel stronger than I did when I thought I was bullet proof and adorned in all my corporate armour.
|Best of the rest……|
The Unusual Pioneers Intrapreneurship programme kicked off with a community impact event and it was great to meet and speak to some of this amazing cohort. As a content partner of the programme, Craigberoch will be hosting a module around resilience and this will be led by the great Viki Lazar from our Cast.
I also had an interview with Ashoka who are exploring new models of leadership in the responsible business arena. They were looking for a diverse set of opinions from practitioners in their space and came across yours truly. I argued that my strong belief is that leadership doesn’t come with a job title or years of service – it’s far more a mindset and a behaviour. For me, the current people at the top of today’s major companies are often ill equipped and unprepared to drive the change we so badly need. I talked about there being a few front runners, the exceptions who prove the rule, with a peloton of most businesses lagging far behind.
On the personal front…….
In July I was able to go an actual concert, probably the first in 18 months, when I attended the Montreux Jazz Festival. Due to the need to be outdoors rather the normal crush in their main halls, they built a stage out into Lac Leman (better known as Lake Geneva). It was an incredibly beautiful experience to listen to fabulous music with the perfect backdrop of the mountains and reflections of the lights shimmering in the water.
The weather has been completely atrocious where I’ve been in the Alps and it felt like November in the middle of July! The good news was that I was happy being indoors watching the Euro 2020 football. My own team Scotland qualified for the first time in over 20 years, but didn’t last too long I’m afraid. Commiserations from this Scotsman to our English brethren who got so near and yet so far to winning the title. My only hope is that the legacy of the dreadful racial abuse that followed the penalty shoot-out might be a catalyst for some meaningful change in the game.
Despite the bad weather, I did manage to get a weekend hiking in the Swiss equivalent of the Camino de Santiago, known as the “St Jacob Way” I’m sharing a couple of pics of the stunning scenery below.
OK, that’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here. Until next month,
* 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. If it’s not for you then feel free to unsubscribe below.