Paying the Price for Knowledge

Local Bench

There is a story told of the famous engineer Charles Proteus Steinmetz who was instrumental in the making alternating current usable. It goes like this:

[Steinmetz] had worked on a very complex system [at General Electric] that was broken. No one could fix it no matter how hard the technicians tried. So they got Steinmetz back. He traced the systems and found the malfunctioning part and marked it with a piece of chalk

Charles Steinmetz submitted a bill for $10,000 dollar. The General Electric managers were taken back and asked for an itemized invoice.

He sent back the following invoice:

  • Making chalk mark $1
  • Knowing where to place it $9,999

Those of us who are knowledge workers still live in a world that asks questions just like this one “$10,000 that’s a lot of money – all you did was put a piece of chalk on the side of the machine”.

The value of a document is often viewed by the number of pages that it includes.

The value of a presentation is measured on the number of slides that it includes.

The value in an answer that is provided is regularly derived from the amount of time it took to answer the question. If it doesn’t take long to resolve the answer can’t be of much value.

There is often no immediate value in a knowledge worker having the knowledge before the question is asked, because people want to see you ‘working’.

I have just finished reading The Heart of Success by Rob Parsons and he focuses very clearly on being productive rather than spending lots of hours working. The problem is that actually we don’t know how to measure productivity. And because we don’t know how to measure it, we struggle to know how to reward it. we can measure the hours that people work, but we struggle to measure productivity, especially for knowledge workers. Perhaps it’s about time we started applying technology to answering that question.

Lots of statements and questions today, but not many answer so I’ll leave you with another thought from Charles Proteus Steinmetz:

“No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.”

Final Working Productivity Assessment

Strawberry

Over the last few weeks I have been undertaking a quick semi-scientific assessment of my productivity when I am in the Office and when I am working from home. I’ve only managed to do this across a few days and hence it’s probably not that representative. The results are stark:

  • Home working productivity: 166
  • Office working productivity: 86

For those of you who haven’t read the previous articles, this assessment has been done solely on interactions (phone calls, meetings, IM, email, etc.) with extra weight being given to the times when I have been adding value and repeat business. I am a knowledge worker and these interactions are my work. I often consider them as extra to my work, but that’s just a mental and emotional shift I have never managed to make.

Is this study valid though, do I feel twice as productive at home as I do in the office. In short, no. I do feel more productive at home, but certainly not twice as productive. One of the things that I haven’t done is to rate the quality of the interactions and face-to-face interactions are certainly of a higher value than those through a technology interface (phone, email, etc.). This would certainly increase the value of the productivity gained from office working. But that assumes that the people I need to interact with are also in the office, which is generally not the case.

Having experienced worked from home there is nothing worse than sitting in an open office on a teleconference, especially as I sit next to an open meeting area and the noise can be terrible.

The flip side of the value of face-to-face interaction is the lack of focus that interactions have in the Office. I may interact casually with more people, but these are probably people who are not adding to my productivity.

The noticeable advantage to home working is the ability to undertake out-of-work activities and knowledge expansion activities. Both of these are non-existent for office working

Productivity through Training (and Technology)

Figus

Yesterday I spent some time reading through a couple of Microsoft articles:

Both of these papers  point towards a welcome change in the IT industry; one that drives us away from features and towards exploitation. In Enabling the New World of Work the author(s) write:

Today, the primary challenge is not about IT departments conquering the technology, but rather training and educating the workforce to adopt the technologies that IT deploys. This shift toward an information-worker-centered IT model focuses on the people who render information into action, rather than the technology itself.

And also:

In a recent study conducted by Gartner Research, it stated that the successful CIO will make a strategic transformation, through 2010, from a manager of IT resources to a business leader who uses IT to enable and empower the business. By 2010, 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies will have an integrated business and IT strategy. 

In Helping Employees Use Technology More Effectively at Microsoft they outline the new approach that Microsoft are taking towards training. They call it the Employee Productivity Education (EPE) program and it’s aim is to “to provide Microsoft employees with scenario-based and prescriptive information about Microsoft products and IT technologies.” They then go on to talk about how they are going to do this in a number of different scenarios.

The other day Ernie the Attorney talked about a scenario he had found himself in where the simple use of very old technology made a significant difference to a lawyer friends personal productivity. Ernie goes on to make a valid point:

Figuring out what’s possible is the hard part for most people, especially those who resist technology. People resist technology because they’ve learned that it’s too hard to deal with.

Productivity and effectiveness have become burning issues to me and have written about it a few times (here and here and here). I’ve also been undertaking a semi-scientific assessment of my personal productivity when in my different working environments.

Having worked on many IT infrastructure programmes that have undertaken dramatic changes in the technology base for large corporate customers words like these leave a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. Having been involved in the initial creation of many of these programmes I have always sought to include significant budget for training in and exploitation of the technology that we were about to deliver. But in every one of the programmes the first victim of programme issues has been the training and exploitation budget. I recoil at phrases like “we’ll deal with that once we get it out there”; “this isn’t that different from the technology we have today”. For each of these programmes the stated requirements may have been met, but the objectives of the business have been severely curtailed.

Perhaps Microsoft have started down a path that others will seek to follow – scenario based training.It’s not that the training ‘information’ isn’t available to all; the issue we need to contend with is connecting people with the necessary information in a way that is relevant to them. I really like the scenario idea because it’s a metaphor that people can connect with – it’s also technology agnostic. It answers the question that is being asked rather than telling someone how a particular piece of technology could contribute.

Yet again the biggest challenge facing IT is the people challenge.

  • How do we teach adults to learn like children? Children love to find new ways of doing things. They love to compare what they do with their friends. They love to learn and learning brings change. They don’t worry about the change. They don’t worry about breaking something.
  • How do we teach business leaders that their role has changed to be one of exploitation rather than one of features?
  • How do we help people to realise that learning IS work?
  • How do we help people to realise that THEIR productivity is THEIR challenge?
  • How do we help people to realise that the productivity of the TEAM is also their challenge?

Count Your Blessings #6 – We have a Garden

Lavender

One of things that looked like a bit of a daunting task when we moved into our current house was the back garden. As is the tradition in the UK that new houses have a landscaped (cheaply) front garden, but a back garden that is a complete mess. They don’t even clean out all of the detritus that results from the building process. All that happens is that it gets flatten and covered over with a thin veneer of top soil. Stick your spade in anywhere and you’ll come up with a brick, or a lump of concrete, or some piping and enough nails to rebuild your house. They don’t even put up a fence between you and your neighbours, that’s left to a simple piece of wood marking the boundary.

Tree FernLike many people who move into a new house, the cost of moving wiped us out financially. In that situation the garden always goes to the bottom of the list. That is, apart from the fencing, but that’s only because it’s in your contract to get it resolved within the first few weeks. After a couple of years catching up financially and doing the interior of the house we finally got around to the back garden a couple of years ago. We had wanted to do it ourselves, but in the end we paid someone to do the landscaping so that we could enjoy the planting. Like all gardens it’s taken a little while to get established, but this year it has become a real pleasure.

PatioGardens are great at encouraging you to look at the overall plan and at the same time looking at the smallest detail. The way that a fern unravels and extends is fabulous. The growth rate of a vine is phenomenal.

At one level the garden is just a collection of billions and trillions of atoms. At another level it’s a puzzle of interrelated cells that even the most powerful computer couldn’t describe. At another level it’s a collection of leaves and branches and flowers. Each of these levels makes our garden interesting, even fascinating, and each of them contributes to the knowledge that this is our place of tranquility, of creativity, of refreshing, of play, of relationship, of fellowship.

The garden is especially a place of play for the children. Our latest edition is a trampoline and the kids would bounce all day every day if their schedule or the English weather would let them. Having children in a garden just extends it’s appeal as a place of family and togetherness.

FlowersThe other thing about a Garden is that it doesn’t just appeal to one sense, or even two, it gets to every one of them. We deliberately chose plants that contributed scents and taste. This year we have extended that a bit by integrating food producing plants with the other ‘pretty’ plants. A bit like the approach they used to take in the old cottage gardens, but in a more modern way. So hopefully, later in the year, we will be eating the garden too.

Having a garden is a blessing that we could so easily overlook, but spend any time out there and I am soon reminded of the abundant generosity of God. It’s not about us begging it to produce – it just produces, and often it produces far more than we expected.

Hebrews 12:15 Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.

Count Your Blessings #5

Books

I can read – brilliant.

When I was at school reading was a complete pain the rear as far as I was concerned. I only passed my O-level English on my third attempt and it really got me down. I didn’t read the classics or anything like that as a child.

But, somehow, through it all I learnt to read.

As I got older a change came in my life where I not only learnt to read I actually started to enjoy it. This was a work of God.

What’s more, when I started to enjoy reading, God put me in a place with a couple of individuals who loved to read also (Vince and Martin). Their reading was completely different to mine and yet we enjoyed each others reading, they even changed my reading.

I’ve just finished reading The Shadow in the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon a book which I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near when I was 18 but now I love. But I’m also reading The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg which is a completely different book. There is now a stack of books in my study which is getting to big for the shelves but I can’t bare to get rid of them because each one of them has spoken to me in some way. In a sense, each one of them is a part of me. Every one of them from The Darwin Awards III to The Second Reformation.

In recent years I’ve also rediscovered great picture books to. I could sit for hours and just take in the wonder of the Waters of Cumbria.

I know that it is such a blessing to be given both the ability and the resources.

Talking Effectiveness

Sunset (before the rain)I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about effectiveness. I’ve also been doing some reading. Some of it I haven’t finished so I’m not yet in a position to comment fully but it follows on from my post on An Approach to To-Do Lists.

Two of the things I have been reading are a set of articles produced by Microsoft on Helping Employees Use technology More Effectively at Microsoft and also a book by Rob Parsons called The Heart of Success (not the best site in the world). Like I say I’m only part way through most of it but the Rob Parsons book really gets to me because it really gets to the heart of what I feel. Let me just reiterate the 7 Law’s that he outlines as a taster:

  • Don’t settle for Being Money Rich – Time Poor
  • Believe that the Job You Do Makes a Difference
  • Play to Your Strengths – find Your Factor X
  • Believe in the Power of Dreams
  • Put Your Family Before Your Career
  • Keep the Common Touch
  • Don’t Settle for Success: Make a Difference – Strive for Significance.

It’s the last one that really gets to me – significance. Is what I do significant. The answer is certainly – the real question is whether I connect with that significance.