Does greater productivity occur when we can focus in one particular direction or when we can access multiple ways to get something done? It is an interesting question because it makes a difference in how you define productivity. I’ll give you an example.
I was just speaking with a client who had a huge preference for Conceptual thinking and he was focusing through his strengths to develop a whitepaper for their clients on major trends. As a big-picture thinker and a visionary, this kind of work and output was compelling to him and he created the whitepaper on time and with incredibly high quality. You could say that he was highly productive in this task. He narrowed his focus to the kind of imaginative output that worked with his brain.
From a different perspective though he noticed that while clients found it valuable they were unsure what to do with the information. There was a structural, practical element that was missing. Ultimately they fixed this gap, but it meant a version 2.0 and increased time. On an overall level, the end product became more difficult to produce and truly a less productive endeavor for the company.
The point is that productivity isn’t always about getting something done and out the door. Productivity means actually producing outputs that crate the right kind of value. That’s where an understanding of a more holistic perspective on work can help leaders and teams be more productive.
I recently listened to a podcast by noted author and thinker Tim Ferriss, most famous for his concept of the 4-hour workweek, which in essence is about being more productive and satisfied. He made a fairly provocative assertion that we should not be specialists, but rather should focus on being generalists. “Specialization is for insects!” he said. This is hard, because, with competition as fierce as it is, to not push solely to the point of specialization and expertise seems foolish and unproductive. One key reason supporting the idea of generalization though came from the concept of how generalization can take one out of a narrow mindset or perspective and introduce new ideas or ways of thinking or accomplishments.
While being a generalist in practice may be tough (its hard after all to become a quasi-expert on many things instead of a real expert on one or two), the idea that we can utilize a broader mindset or pool of resources to gain a different perspective is critical. That’s not a new idea, but connecting it to productivity is pretty unique.
Just think about how much more productive you could be if you could truly understand the various ramifications, from many perspectives, of a particular plan you’ve laid out. In the case of my client, they ultimately lost productivity because the output wasn’t developed from a truly diverse enough perspective and it required additional work on the back-end to get to a level of quality that they wanted. For their clients, this was seen in a positive light–making a good product even better and going the extra mile.
But, for them it was a learning experience. So how can you become more productive by gaining more diverse perspectives?
1. Understand your go-to approach for completing a task – This is what will get you going and being productive right out of the gate.
2. Know what gaps you may be missing – If you don’t think about things naturally from a big-picture level, have that in your mind as you begin working.
3. Find information or people who can fill those gaps – This is about cognitive and behavioral diversity. This is where work on the front-end (getting out of your cognitive comfort zone) pays big dividends on the back end for overall productivity.
Productivity is all about knowing how to work smarter not harder – getting broader inputs is one way to do just that.