What is productivity?
It is the work of our imagination at work

Nipawin - September 6, 2000 - By: Mario deSantis


A common theme of our writing at Ensign has been the educational need to be more
human in our work place, in our homes and in our communities. In one previous article,
we showed how CEOs and politicians are getting away from their ivory towers and
entering our living rooms through their television messages. And today, few minutes
ago, I just watched Russian  President Vladimir Putin on TV dressed up in a kimono,
demonstrating his judo wrestling skills as he prepared to meet with Japan's Prime
Minister Yoshiro Mori(1).




President Putin and Prime Minister Mori will have animated discussions regarding
the political future of the Kurils islands, and Putin's wrestling demonstration was
significant in relaying the message that what it takes to reach an understanding is
just a human touch.



brainwashing propaganda

But in this mechanistic economic thinking we are still a bit far away from getting more
civilized and more human. In particular, the continuous emphasis to express our
well-being in terms of GDP and productivity (GDP per worker) is nothing else but
a never ending brainwashing propaganda supported by the most archaic corporate
culture. And in this regard, the writings of Bruce Little, economist with The Globe and
Mail, provide not only a business and educational disservice, but perpetuates the kind
of economic and political nightmare we are experiencing in Saskatchewan and in Canada.



definition of productivity

It is a fact that in the last 10 years our average real personal income has decreased by 5%
while the American income has increased by some 13%(2). And in rationalizing this
growth disparity between Canada and the United States, Little states that
"the United States owes much of its success to high business investment in new machinery and equipment, especially in computers and other information technology of the New Economy."
Little goes on to say that
"productivity is important because it's the foundation of prosperity and a rising standard of living. When it grows, we all get better off; when it doesn't, we don't. It's pure economic alchemy(3)".
Mr. Little does know very little about our New Economy (or Network Economy, or
Knowledge Economy or Internet Economy) and it is important therefore to correct the
misconceptions regarding the definition of productivity and its relevancy for our
economic and social growth.




Many economists and management scientists have been defining productivity in the
Network Economy, and they all agree that productivity is much much more than GDP
per worker, it is a revolutionary concept as ancient as human history, productivity is
nothing else but the use of our most important asset, the work of our imagination at





way we
think about ourselves

Among the many definitions of productivity in the Network Economy(4) I find the
work of Kevin Kelly extremely intelligent and down to earth, and therefore I am very
happy to provide below the way Kevin Kelly describes productivity in the hope that
we can all initiate some transformational changes in the way we think about ourselves,
our economic growth and our little economists at The Globe and Mail.
From Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy(5)


Economists once thought that the coming age would bring supreme productivity. But, in a paradox, increasing technology has not led to measurable increases in productivity. This is because productivity is exactly the wrong thing to care about. The only ones who should worry about productivity are robots. And, in fact, the one area of the economy that does show a rise in productivity has been the US and Japanese manufacturing sectors, which have seen about a 3 to 5 percent annual increase throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. This is exactly where you want to find productivity. But we don't see productivity gains in the misnamed catch-all category, the service industry - and why would we? Is a Hollywood movie company that produces longer movies per dollar more productive than one that produces shorter movies?




The problem with trying to measure productivity is that it measures only how well people can do the wrong jobs. Any job that can be measured for productivity probably should be eliminated.



seizing opportunities

Peter Drucker has noted that in the industrial age, the task for each worker was to discover how to do his job better; that's productivity. But in the Network Economy, where machines do most of the inhumane work of manufacturing, the task for each worker is not "how to do this job right" but "what is the right job to do?" In the Network Economy, productivity is not our bottleneck. Our ability to solve our social and economic problems will be limited primarily by our lack of imagination in seizing opportunities, rather than trying to optimize solutions. In the words of Peter Drucker, as echoed recently by George Gilder, "Don't solve problems, seek opportunities." When you are solving problems, you are investing in your weaknesses; when you are seeking opportunities, you are banking on the network. The wonderful news about the Network Economy is that it plays right into human strengths. Repetition, sequels, copies, and automation all tend toward the free, while the innovative, original, and imaginative all soar in value.


President Putin floored by a schoolgirl, September 5, 2000, Web posted at: 11:35 AM EDT http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/09/05/putin.judo/index.html


CANADA'S STANDARD OF LIVING: WHY DO WE LAG BEHIND THE U.S.? Productivity is only part of the problem, Marc Lévesque, Ruth Getter, May 26, 1999, Toronto Dominion Bank http://www.tdbank.ca/tdeconomics/market_analysis/current/ml0526.htm


Too early to tell if our productivity will match U.S. boom, Bruce Little, The Globe and Mail, Monday, September 4, 2000 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/gam/FeaturesAmazingFacts/20000904/RAMAZ.html


Knowledge Management http://www.brint.com/km/ Dr. Yogesh Malhotra is the founder, chairman and chief knowledge architect of @Brint.com


New Rules for the New Economy. Twelve dependable principles for thriving in a turbulent world. By Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor, Wired Magazine Group Inc., F E A T U R E S | Issue 5.09 - September 1997