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Productivity is only half the story

We need to improve productivity to enable creativity, but a focus on innovation will drive success a lot faster.

Last year, RBA chief Philip Lowe highlighted the rising gap between firms taking advantage of new technology and those left behind.

Having worked with organisations to better leverage technology for more than 10 years, it is still surprising that despite advances in technology, many companies and government agencies are failing to adopt new tools and processes.

We have IoT, AI, cloud computing and machine learning – we just aren’t leveraging them effectively and the classic problems of the knowledge worker remain: too many unprofitable demands on their time. Why aren’t we more productive?

Most medium to large organisations have access to truly innovative collaboration and communication technology but lack a strategy to release them intelligently and drive adoption. As business leaders, we need to make these tools available to knowledge workers or they will either find their own with all the IT headaches this causes, or our organisations will simply become less and less competitive until we become non-viable.

This is a given; most organisations don’t need to be told to focus on productivity. But pure output over input is not the full story that explains the difference between the ‘laggards’ and the ‘leaders’.

A McKinsey report on digital opportunity in Australia estimated the potential to grow the Australian economy between A$140 billion and $250 billion over the next eight years.

It’s essential to help our people do their jobs more efficiently, yes – but also assisting and encouraging them to think beyond their daily tasks to the possibilities that exist for disruptive change:

  • Training and reminding people to use the tools at their disposal to work collaboratively and creatively.
  • Driving innovation by giving teams the opportunity to learn from those in other sectors with different knowledge.
  • Creating a culture that accepts and supports failure as a necessary part of creation.

This will be the difference between leaders and laggards. Productivity problems did not kill off Nokia, Kodak or Blockbuster, they simply didn’t innovate and did not respond quickly enough to changes in available technologies.

We need to improve productivity to enable creativity. Every minute we spend recreating a lost document or deleting the seventh in a chain of ‘reply all’ emails is a minute lost to new ideas and status-challenging concepts. Every unnecessary meeting is squashing our productive day further, until the only paths trodden are safe, tried and tested because taking risks and making unconventional connections is something no-one has time for.

As well as providing platforms for effective working, it is the responsibility of every organisation to ensure there is an appropriate, frictionless channel for everyone – especially front-line staff who may not sit in front of a computer all day – to be able to share their ideas and to encourage this sharing in an ongoing cultural effort. The cost of not doing so is lost opportunity and potential disruption.

Your organisation may be established and, in some ways, traditional, but it is still possible to embrace a start-up mentality by capturing and nurturing innovative thinking.

Look at two relatively recent transformations where new CEOs have effectively turned the Titanic by challenging existing assumptions: at MasterCard (“we are a financial services company” became “we are a technology company”); and at Microsoft (“Our platforms, our services” became “Drive customer effectiveness through open integration”).

A genuine focus on innovation will drive success a lot faster than pure productivity, keep the competition on the back foot and result in a more engaged and positive workforce.

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