Here is an article written by Margaret Heffernan for BNET (March 3, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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Multi-tasking has become an epidemic.
According to recent research, college students in lectures are opening, on average, 65 new screens per lecture – 62 percent of which are entirely unrelated to the lecture or the course. They’re also instant messaging and sending email.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found there is an inverse relationship between this multitasking and academic performance. Learning takes longer, involves more mistakes and may mean that learning isn’t retained for long.
Of course, executives around the world also behave the same way, hoping that, by doing so many things at once, they will somehow be more productive.
The evidence suggests otherwise. Here’s why:
Multitasking is an urban myth: Cognitive scientists have demonstrated that we never truly multi-task; we merely task-switch (albeit very quickly.) Between each switch is, effectively, a blind spot. Information gets dropped, overlooked or under-valued. This is also why you can’t safely drive and talk or text on your cell phone at the same time; your intellectual capacity is worse than if you’re over the legal alcohol limit. Computers might be able to multi-task, but the mind cannot.
Productivity isn’t a function of hours: We think by doing a great deal all the time that somehow we will get more done. This is an industrial revolution model of productivity: if you can make 10 widgets in an hour, you can make 100 in 10 hours, right? Wrong. Even in manufacturing it doesn’t work because you get tired and make mistakes. When it comes to intellectual processing, it is even more wrong. As we get tired, we lose the ability to discriminate and discern. We may keep going but the quality of our thinking declines. What creative work needs is a balance of focus and rest. That’s why you may often find you get your best ideas driving home.
Breaking the cycle
It’s hard to break our multi-tasking habits. And it’s even harder if you have a boss who loves multi-tasking and thinks anyone not working this way is a slacker. Is there any way around that? Yes. The most important argument to win is the productivity argument.
Make sure you’re measured on output, not hours. If you are rewarded for the quality of the work you generate, then you can reasonably argue that how you get that work done is your business.
Set the tone in the meetings you call: Don’t use your BlackBerry. You’ll also find the meetings might be shorter if you ask everyone not to bring their phones!
Don’t evangelize, even after you’ve found the new benefit of mono-tasking. Ultimately all those addicted multi-taskers will have to find their own way to kick the habit.
Have you kicked your multi-tasking addiction? How have you done it?
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Margaret Heffernan worked for 13 years as a producer for BBC Radio and Television before running her first company. She has since been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom, including InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation. She has been named one of the Internet’s Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her books include The Naked Truth, How She Does It: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success, and the upcoming Willful Blindness. She has appeared on NPR, CNN, CNBC, and the BBC, and writes for Real Business,The Huffington Post, and Fast Company.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Adam Bryant for The New York Times (March 12, 2001) in which he focuses on a plan that Google code-named Project Oxygen in early 2009.
To read the complete article, please click here.
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Laszlo Bock of Google says its study found that a boss’s technical expertise was less important than “being accessible.”
IN early 2009, statisticians inside the Googleplex here embarked on a plan code-named Project Oxygen.
Their mission was to devise something far more important to the future of Google Inc. than its next search algorithm or app.
They wanted to build better bosses.
So, as only a data-mining giant like Google can do, it began analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints.
Later that year, the “people analytics” teams at the company produced what might be called the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.
Now, brace yourself. Because the directives might seem so forehead — slappingly obvious — so, well, duh — it’s hard to believe that it took the mighty Google so long to figure them out:
“Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.”
“Help your employees with career development.”
“Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.”
The list goes on, reading like a whiteboard gag from an episode of “The Office.”
“My first reaction was, that’s it?” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for “people operations,” which is Googlespeak for human resources.
But then, Mr. Bock and his team began ranking those eight directives by importance. And this is where Project Oxygen gets interesting.
For much of its 13-year history, particularly the early years, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place.
But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.
“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”
Project Oxygen doesn’t fit neatly into the usual Google story line of hits (like its search engine) and misses (like the start last year of Buzz, its stab at social networking). Management is much squishier to analyze, after all, and the topic often feels a bit like golf. You can find thousands of tips and rules for how to become a better golfer, and just as many for how to become a better manager. Most of them seem to make perfect sense.
Problems start when you try to keep all those rules in your head at the same time — thus the golf cliché, “paralysis by analysis.” In management, as in golf, the greats make it all look effortless, which only adds to the sense of mystery and frustration for those who struggle to get better.
That caveat aside, Project Oxygen is noteworthy for a few reasons, according to academics and experts in this field.
H.R. has long run on gut instincts more than hard data. But a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human interactions.
“Google is really at the leading edge of that,” says Todd Safferstone, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board, who has a good perch to see what H.R. executives at more than 1,000 big companies are up to.
Project Oxygen is also unusual, Mr. Safferstone says, because it is based on Google’s own data, which means that it will feel more valid to those Google employees who like to scoff at conventional wisdom.
Many companies, he explained, adopt generic management models that tell people the roughly 20 things they should do as managers, without ranking those traits by importance. Those models often suffer “a lot of organ rejection” in companies, he added, because they are not presented with any evidence that they will make a difference, nor do they prioritize what matters.
“Most companies are better at exhorting you to be a great manager, rather than telling you how to be a great manager,” Mr. Safferstone says.
PROJECT OXYGEN started with some basic assumptions.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.
As Martin Hutchinson and Lisa Lee explain in an article published by The New York Times (March 13, 2011), the British weavers known as the Luddites, who destroyed looms 200 years ago, thought rising unemployment within their ranks was because of machinery. But there’s a case that inflation, money supply expansion, budget deficits and trade barriers were equally to blame. Maybe we haven’t learned much in two centuries.
The Luddite riot on March 11, 1811, was an attack on wide knitting frames in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold. The rioters’ believed that their livelihoods had been endangered by a dumbing-down of their skilled work by automated looms. The riots spread to Manchester, a main cotton center, late in 1811. Prime Minister Spencer Perceval’s government, which had a robust approach to public order, made frame-breaking a capital offense a year later; 17 offenders were eventually executed. After that, Luddite activity gradually faded out.
A Borders store near my home will soon close. I refuse to shop there during its close-out sale because I’d feel like someone going through the wallets of dead soldiers. Would this store have been spared, had I spent more there during recent years? Probably not.
What to think of advocates of bound volumes who resent electronic reading devices? Are they descendants of the Luddites in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold? Not in my opinion.
Innovation is relentless because human curiosity is insatiable and the quest for something better never ends. Wine presses became printed presses that produced bound volumes.
Looms produced products made of cotton that had been processed, delivered to the mills, and then distributed from them by steam-powered improvements of mass production (e.g. assembly lines) and transportation (e.g. ships, and vehicles).
The Luddites were fools to oppose progress.
It can be delayed but never denied.
Since you obviously know that I believe in reading as a core value, I wanted to share with you a program that is exciting to get children off to the right start in this activity.
Take Time to Read is a program that is a joint partnership between the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas. It is a great investment that gives these organizations the opportunity to demonstrate their care for the future of Texas children. Since the program’s inception, both organizations have worked together to develop and distribute promotional materials at no charge.
Many Scottish Rite members go directly into Texas public schools on a regular basis and read to children in the classrooms. The activities are coordinated by a special committee authorized by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas.
I thought you might be interested in reading this information about the program that I pulled directly from the web site of the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, which is located just southwest of downtown Dallas on Maple Avenue.
Reading experts agree that reading aloud to children may be one of the most important activities adults can do to prepare children for success in school. Reading aloud for as little as 10-20 minutes each day can provide tremendous benefits in helping children develop a better understanding and appreciation of language.
Benefits of Reading to Children Include:
- Encouraging children’s imagination and inspiring creativity
- Helping children develop good listening skills and expand their attention span
- Preparing children for success in school
- Helping children develop critical thinking skills
- Creating a bond between adult and child
Tips for Reading to Children:
- Take time to read to your child every day for at least 10 minutes.
- Establish a regular reading time.
- Make sure your special reading time isn’t interrupted. Your undivided attention is important to your child.
- Guide your child’s reading selection by choosing a variety of books you find appropriate. Allow your child to choose from this group.
- Talk about what you’re reading. Discuss the story to make sure your child understands the story and the words in the book.
For more information, please contact the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia at (214) 559-7800 or (800) 421-1121, ext. 7800, or e-mail email@example.com.
Here is an article co-authored by Vikram Malhotra and James Manyika for The McKinsey Quarterly website (March 2011), published by McKinsey & Company. To check out all the free resources and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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As the US economy begins to recover, addressing some of the myths on productivity is more important than ever.
President Obama recently used his weekly radio address to insist that the United States can outcompete any other nation on earth if only we “unlock the productivity” of American workers. But the president’s advocacy of productivity—getting more or better value for each hour worked—as the key to competitiveness may fall on deaf ears in some quarters. Longstanding misconceptions continue to undermine rational debate on productivity. Here are a few of the most pervasive.
Misconception #1: Productivity gains have reached their limits. Productivity is not a priority. The United States relies more than ever on productivity gains to drive GDP growth. Productivity generated 80 percent of total GDP growth in recent years compared with 35 percent in the 1970s. Now, due to our country’s shifting demographics, we’ll have to do even better.
In the past, productivity gains and an expanding labor force made equal contributions to economic growth. But this is changing as baby boomers retire and the number of women entering the work force levels off. If labor-force growth slows as projected and productivity increases at the average 1.7 percent annual rate posted since 1960, annual GDP growth will fall to 2.2 percent from its historic average of 3.3 percent. Americans on average would experience slower gains in living standards than did their parents and grandparents. To prevent this, productivity growth needs to increase to an annual rate of 2.3 percent—a rate not achieved since the 1960s.
Misconception #2: Productivity gains have reached their limits. Productivity is a job killer. Many Americans suspect that productivity is a job-destroying exercise. They point to the period since 2000, when the largest productivity gains in the United States came from sectors that have seen large job cuts, such as electronics and other manufacturing. But when looking across the economy overall, as opposed to the ups and downs of individual sectors, productivity and jobs nearly always increase together. More than two-thirds of the years since 1929 have seen gains in both. It is simply untrue that there is a trade-off between productivity and jobs in a dynamic economy.
Misconception #3: Productivity gains have reached their limits. Productivity is only about efficiency and is designed to bolster corporate profits. Productivity can come either from efficiency gains (such as reducing inputs for given output) or by increasing the volume and value of outputs for any given input (for which innovation is a vital driver). The United States needs to see both kinds of productivity gains to experience a virtuous growth cycle in which increases in value provide for rises in income that, in turn, fuel demand for more and better goods and services.
In the second half of the 1990s, the United States saw productivity gains come from both sources. Two sectors—large-employment retail, and semiconductors and electronics—collectively contributed 35 percent to the acceleration in productivity during this period and, at the same time, added more than two million new jobs. In contrast, the largest productivity gains since 2000 have come from sectors that experienced substantial employment reductions. The challenge for the United States is to return to the balanced productivity growth of the previous decade.
Misconception #4: Productivity gains have reached their limits. Productivity is just for laggard sectors and companies. Not so. As a critical component of competitiveness, rising productivity is essential to the overall health and wealth of the US economy and to its ability to compete globally. Even the best-performing companies and sectors still have headroom to boost productivity by emulating the best practices of others and developing new innovations of their own. Even a productive sector such as retail, for instance, can broaden its use of lean techniques from the stockroom to the storefront and continue to innovate.
It is true that the opportunity for gains may be larger in industries such as health care that today have relatively low productivity. Our hospitals, without the driver of competition, have only just begun to embrace efficient practices and lean techniques in the purchase and delivery of services. Clearly, the public sector—at all levels—also needs to become more efficient. Boosting public-sector productivity will be critical to reducing the US budget deficit without simply slashing public services.
Misconception #5: Productivity gains have reached their limits. Productivity gains have reached their limits. Some say that economic development and technological innovation in the United States have plateaued and that our productivity engine is running out of steam. We disagree. Our research suggests that the private sector can deliver three-quarters of the productivity gains that the United States needs to match historic growth rates simply by applying best practices across the economy and tapping into the next wave of innovation.
But to obtain the last one-quarter of what’s required, federal, state and local governments need to tackle economy-wide barriers that have long hampered productivity growth—including our deteriorating infrastructure and the abiding burden of red tape. Government should also see to it that companies with a strong record of innovation have access to the talent and the right incentives to expand their US-based operations. Working together, the public and private sectors can set a new global standard for productivity and competitiveness, while ensuring that future generations enjoy gains in living standards similar to those their parents experienced.
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Vik Malhotra is a director in McKinsey’s New York office; James Manyika is director of the McKinsey Global Institute and a director in the San Francisco office.
This article is reprinted from “Productivity and growth: The enduring connection,” which appeared in the February 16, 2011, edition of the Wall Street Journal. Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones & Company. All rights reserved.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Nilofer Merchant for the Harvard Business Review blog (February 28, 2011). To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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[For more, visit the Communication Insight Center.]
The crossing light is already flashing red, reminding you to speed it up. You’re in the middle of rush hour, fighting swarms of people, while simultaneously tapping out a message to wrap up that urgent issue back at the office. All around you — hustling and bustling — are people headed to the grocery store, to the gym, to… somewhere.
Nearby, you hear this voice, asking… “Do you have two minutes to…?”
Will you stop to listen? Not very likely, is it?
Work looks a lot like that busy street corner. Hustling to keep up, our colleagues are taking on more and working harder. Even strategic issues are getting shorted; we spend less than two percent of our time discussing strategic issues. Given this context, new ideas have a tough time being heard. It’s no wonder that our colleagues resort to some aggressive approaches to get theirs on our radar screens. Here are some that I’ve seen recently:
• Rapid-fire ideas. Don’t pause to see if any of them are catching on — just keep going, guns a-blazin’. This is the Rambo approach, akin to Sylvester Stallone armed with the biggest-gun-you-ever-saw delivering a one-man barrage of shock and awe. Carried into work, it suggests that if you just fire off enough ideas, at least one will hit the mark.
• Be super-friendly. Recognizing that trust and camaraderie can help get your ideas a moment of consideration, you work the relationships. This is the Sally Field approach (You like me! You really like me!). The problem is that the focus is on the personal relationship, rather than the merit of the idea.
• Hijack the discussion. Just as someone else is putting forth an idea, use a contradictory word or phrase, such as “but,” “no”, or “I disagree.” to interject. You could even do it more insidiously by saying “Great idea. We could also try…” As attention swivels in your direction, direct the conversation to your own idea under the guise of adding commentary. While you’re at it, affectionately mention some of your previous ideas. This contrarian and dismissive approach — best exemplified for me by the movie critic Roger Ebert — is unfortunately commonplace. While acceptable with professional critics, it’s just plain annoying at work.
As much as we’d like to deny we do this, we can at least admit to being tempted to use techniques like these [e.g. creating a blizzard of ideas, being “suoer friendly” if not obsequious, “highjazcking” the discussion] to give our ideas a chance to be heard. Add (in the comments section) your own pet peeves from your work setting, and we’ll have good collection of how not to do it. While any of these methods might be successful in the short run, they typically only result in surfacing the idea, which rarely influences others or gets acted upon.
And that is really is the point. Remember that the goal of offering a new idea is to move the organization forward. We want to serve the needed role of protagonist: someone who helps organizations become more competitive because of their ability to name issues, point to new horizons and create solutions. The goal then is to not only speak up but to be heard.
To be heard implies speaking up in such a way that the idea is given a chance to influence the organization and be acted upon. To be effectively heard, you need to recognize the context, plan your approach, and adjust your style to communicate ideas that, with any luck, will connect with the needs of the business.
Let me offer six better techniques to getting your ideas heard.
Be an anthropologist. There are so many tools for learning about people — what topics they track, what they value, how they approach their work, their opinions. Figure out what your colleagues care about. If they blog, read ‘em. If they tweet, follow ‘em. Their LinkedIn.com endorsements also tell a story. Observe, learn what makes them tick, andshape your idea to the receiver’s perspective.
Have a perspective. Many people show up at meetings unable to offer a well-considered opinion. If you don’t have an informed perspective, then you risk being labeled a Doer, someone ill-suited to being a protagonist. Doers don’t need seats at the table; no, they can be told what to do via email. When we are working on tough problems— whether it is a new direction or a product or program — we will seek out the folks who are co-thinkers, to become co-creators of our destiny. If you want that role, then come ready to meetings, with a point of view. Sometimes offering a perspective can be as simple as knowing what questions you want to ask.
Create relevance. Every argument can benefit from relevant quantitative data. Figure out which facts matter and get ‘em. Even in early markets where the data is still fuzzy, you can figure out if something is the size of a breadbox or a Humvee. Real customer stories and anecdotes are great; backing those up with facts is even better.
Choose your medium. If these are people who value numbers, use an Excel spreadsheet. If they value good graphics, invest there. Better yet, tell a story that weaves together facts of importance in ways people can get lost in. Facts go in and go out, but ideas that stick always have stories that create meaning and resonance.
Answer the question of “why not.” When we can understand the risks, flaws and options more fully, we go from being just an advocate of one idea to being an advocate for the organization. Complex issues deserve each of us thinking about them robustly.
Be passionate. Our point of view is based on our experiences and observations; your idea may not be something that the rest of the group is thinking about yet. This means you’re going to need to explain it to them. If you do it in a way that is about you being in love with the idea rather than about you being right, someone else just might fall in love with that idea, too. Being passionate does not mean having an outburst, but being clear-minded about your approach. Krishna Chaitanya, a commentator on a recent HBR post, wrote that the the best words are spoken with the most honest, curious (not challenging), and genuine voice. This speaks to a kind of ego-less-ness that is passionate about doing the right thing for the business.
There is a scarily fine line between being perceived as a self-serving scene-stealer vs. someone with valid ideas that need to be considered for the good of the organization. To be a protagonist, you’ve got to not only speak up and be heard, but to do it in a way that advances the organization’s goals. That’s the difference between street corner chaos and actually being heard.
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Nilofer Merchant is a corporate advisor and speaker on innovation methods. Her book, The New How, discussing collaborative ways to have your whole company strategize, was published in 2010. Follow her on Twitter @nilofer.