Not Your Usual “Productivity”
Around the Audience office, we might, if we’re being honest, cringe when we hear the word “productivity.” Too often it stands in for slashing jobs or managing people like machines. Charles Duhigg’s productivity has a different focus:
“Productivity is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.”
This we can really get behind. Because if productivity is really about “using our time most effectively for the things that mean the most to us,” who wouldn’t be on board?
The Right Brain
Duhigg’s productivity resonates in a creative context like ours: we’ve got exactly the right brain on the right project.
The best people working on the things they’re interested in are probably doing it better, faster, and smarter. Why? Because they’re in a rewarding context, using trusted skills, and producing results they can be proud of.
It’s All About Directionality
We don’t have to see productivity as getting the most out of people. That makes it a kind of “resource extraction,” where people are things with desirable resources. Productivity then becomes the accomplishment of acquiring the most of those resources.
If we see productivity as a process instead, then we can focus on creating the ideal conditions for people to give their best resources. This kind of productivity can be mapped out for the ideal conditions and best resources.
A Tale of Two Airplanes
That idea resonates strongly for our VP Creative, Mark Higgins. Duhigg explores “mental models”—a way of mapping or structuring ideal conditions—in two intense stories about airplanes. (Note: if you’re having an already anxious day, don’t read about a plane on fire or going up instead of down. It doesn’t help.) One is about Air France Flight 447; the other is about Qantas Flight 32. Two situations, both involving the Airbus plane. Both experienced intense systems failures. One plane went down in the ocean. The other landed safely.
There’s a lot to infer from this, not least of which is that airplanes are legitimately dangerous. (We kid: we fly a lot. And not one of us is nervous about those flights after reading this book.) What allowed one plane to land instead of crash was the capacity to fall back on a mental model of what flying should feel like, rather than relying on the information (erroneous, as it turns out) immediately at hand. It’s imperative to be conscious of what things look like when they’re working, what they actually look and feel like. If we have this sense firmly in place, we can recognize when it’s not ideal.
A Question of Timing
In our experience, these mental models are an intrinsic part of feedback. This is how we train our staff, and it makes sense in some contexts. When you’re not flying a plane, it’s completely appropriate to reflect in the aftermath, discuss what worked, what didn’t, how to make it more successful in the future. There are no lives at stake.
But if our focus is avoiding wasted time, energy, and intellect, then feedback is actually a terrible time to check-in on a project. We can look back and recognized when/where/how things went awry, but by this time, they’ve already gone awry.
Learning to Trust the Model
If, however, we verify our concept against a mental model early on, we know if and how it will work throughout the project. If it’s fuzzy or imperfect, everything has to be rethought and repositioned, which means new debates, new directions, new resources.
The takeaway: if the concept fits the mental model, it can give endlessly with minimal time, energy, and intellect—because their internal logic means that everything will hold, regardless of the situation. When we can trust it fully, we can give that extra energy to making it truly exceptional.