In the line of work I do, there is a constant drive for productivity and efficiency. This clearly has its benefits, but it can be a hidden hindrance. As we rush to clear our job lists, key activities and work to have impact with our strategic goals, we have very little time to step back. This may sound obvious, and the principles of effective time management are well established, but what are the unintended consequences of this “hurried” or “rushed” state we create for ourselves? I use the word “ourselves” because even though our plates are filled by others, we have the power to control our environs.
The trigger for my reflection and this blog, was a great picture of a bemused looking cat on the October edition of the Harvard Business Review Magazine, and an article “The Business case for Curiosity”. In her article, Francesca Gino (Tandon Professor Harvard Business School) , talks about recent research demonstrating the practical benefits for curiosity. Francesca discusses the fact that leaders can have a couple of barriers that can inhibit curiosity.Firstly having the wrong mindset about exploration, and secondly seeking efficiency to the detriment of exploration. Francesca highlights that there is now a body of data/evidence that suggests that organisations that foster curiosity and exploration have more productive workers, less conflict, and more rigorous decision making.
I will attempt to go deeper on the second barrier, as it relates to productivity. Productivity is not a bad thing as we know, but it is the relentless pursuit of it to the detriment of other key work activities that becomes the issue. Focusing on one key element only, even though it is fundamental to profitability, can create tunnel vision, where the opportunity for curiosity leading to greater creativity, is significantly reduced. Furthermore in my experience, productivity is all about the team engagement. A fully motivated and engaged team, will improve the bandwidth of any leader, generate more ideas, and increase productivity. From a “Lean” perspective, an approach could be a Kaizen programme. I have witnessed these working very effectively, especially when the shop floor are running their own kaizens, with minimal input from leadership. I have also observed very directive, and authoritative environments where the process totally falls apart and leadership are instructing teams how to be productive, rather than enabling productivity. Kaizens not only lead to solutions and idea generation, but they inevitably mean a dialogue, curiosity and feeding off others ideas. The other key factor is “Freedom to Operate” i.e. giving the staff enough freedom to explore ideas, experiment and take decisions. Far too many organisations don’t leave enough “wiggle room” for staff to be more autonomous. This in itself creates frustration, stifles creativity and indirectly negatively impacts productivity. I have worked in organisations that are so over controlling, that effectively staff have checked out, in a way that they are not engaged, and are performing well below their optimum. Organisations do need rules and frameworks, but they have to be appropriate and not over bearing. The quality control element, comes from engagement and effective training. When boundaries are too tight, and the atmosphere is over controlling, this has a huge negative impact on productivity.
In summary, productivity and curiosity are not mutually exclusive, actually they are symbiotic if managed correctly. Fundamentally, it is about trust, engagement and letting people do their jobs. This will allow them to be more curious and thus more productive.