100 Productivity Blogs

March 11, 2009

Long listing of productivity blogs here (I was familiar with about a third of them). I’ve always been interested in the issue of personal and team productivity as my contention is that most companies are wildly underperforming! In these challenging times, this issue has enormous implications.

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Personally I’ve tried a variety of schemes (eg GTD,Do It Tomorrow) but have never found one that fitted into my ‘creative’ workflow effortlessly. Of course the real problem comes when you decide to go from one scheme to another! It also often becomes a concern that you feel you’re spending more time setting up and managing systems rather than simply benefiting from them. Then again by not experimenting with new approaches you might be missing out big time…

I tend to use an (ever changing) hybrid of tools and approaches which probably violates most productivity rules but it does seem to balance out for me.

Picture credit here.


Complexity and Engagement At The BT Tower

March 7, 2009

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David Gurteen organised a Knowledge Cafe with BT recently, held in the impressive BT Tower. The theme was “How can we best keep employees engaged in their work, in the current economic climate?”. This seemed to me quite a challenging theme, as in my experience, developing co-ordinated employee engagement is hard enough in even quite benign times!

There is a good write-up of the event on David’s blog (article dated Thursday 26 February) which also includes slides of the three talks as well as speaker profiles.

The main speaker was Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge, whose name I’d often heard mentioned in glowing terms (in a knowledge management context) but had never previously seen speak. Luckily he spoke for about an hour and gave a compelling survey of his way of thinking about things, based on applying ideas from complexity theory to business settings. This was especially interesting as earlier in my career I’d actually carried out research in this area (including the visualisation of nonlinear systems)!

There’s a good independent exposition of his talk here which is well worth a careful read. The relevance of the picture above will be clear if you take a look at the presentation slides!

Overall a really good day out, including a very illuminating chat in a nearby pub at the end. Many thanks here to Ron Donaldson for providing some additional comments and insights that were helpful in beginning to understand this rather different and exciting take on things.

As I live outside London, it’s not always possible to get to all of the Knowledge Cafe’s that are organised. From the ones I have been too I was impressed by the wide variety of venues (very interesting in their own right) and the fact that there seems to be a continuous influx of new faces (this is important as it keeps things fresh). The atmosphere is also very friendly and there does seem to be ‘a true sense of enquiry’. Anyway, well worth going along to in case you’re in two minds!

If you prefer more science-based conversations you can try the Cafe Scientifique.

Picture credit here.


10 Innovation Lessons From The Economist

March 2, 2009

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Illuminating account by Andrew Carey of lessons learnt in an innovation project carried out at The Economist in 2006 (Project Red Stripe). The article is a good read and the 10 lessons in summary form are:

Lesson 1 – Team Selection: Consider carefully whether it’s better to bring together a team who already know each other, share a common professional language and have skills in common – and then buy-in extra skills as needed. Or do you prefer a broad knowledgebase but allow extra time for team members to get used to each other?

Lesson 2 – Team Selection: Recruiting team members who want to return to their old jobs at the end of the project ensures that you don’t just get people who are bored with their work. But loyal employees are not necessarily the most creative. The angry and disaffected may have some of the best ideas.

Lesson 3 – Crowdsourcing: Think very carefully about who is best placed to identify the best innovation for your organisation. Is it you and your team? Your customers? Experts? Or the world at large?

Lesson 4 – Freedom: Be realistic about how much freedom you can give an innovation team. Otherwise, it may turn into a millstone.

Lesson 5 – Freedom: “Thinking big” is necessary for a major innovation project, especially as it’s notoriously difficult to get people to think outside the box. But giving people the freedom to try and change the world may leave them dazed by the enormity of what they might achieve.

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Lesson 6 – Risk: Do a risk assessment. Is the sponsor organization under sufficient pressure to want to run with whatever idea the team comes up with?

Lesson 7 – Teambuilding: The moments in a team’s trajectory when you most need to run team-building exercises (later on, when the team is under extreme pressure) are, almost by definition, the moments when you haven’t got time to run them.

Lesson 8 – Drifting: Drifting aimlessly can be creative, but can also be scary. Participants (and finance directors) may want something more regimented. Rules and guidelines can offer direction or serve as blinders. It may be important to have some clear guidelines in place before the innovation project begins.

Lesson 9 – Consensus: Consider whether you should opt for ideas that excite everybody or simply for ones that command a majority. If you can’t find an idea that excites everybody, for how long should you keep looking?

Lesson 10 – Markets: A deserving market may be motivational, even inspirational. But it doesn’t necessarily make for good business. The team may need guidelines for how to value a commercial priority against an ethical one in business.

Picture credit: Der Spiegel