Productivity does not equal personal success
April 6, 2009
In the seventh of a series on work-life balance, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to Stever Robbins, a veteran of nine high-growth startup companies and adviser to several more, former IT project manager and current author of yet another forthcoming book. Called the GetItDoneGuy, Stever creates a regular podcast that ranks #1 in the business category on iTunes.
Intimidated by such a brilliant Harvard business mind, I posed a few questions to get the ball rolling. It didn’t take long until we landed on one of our mutually favorite topics: productivity.
In our chat, we questioned the meaning of productivity. Business, according to Stever, was designed to improve our lives. In the face of today’s financial disaster, it has done everything but. Where did we go wrong?
I would maintain commerce has indeed augmented our lives. Big business, on the other hand, has not. Nonetheless, we lead our lives of quiet productivity, wondering why the Holy Grail is only slightly out of reach. If only we tried a little harder…all the while the Earth is sagging under the weight of our own helplessness. Or is it?
In my conversation with Stever, I learned about the history of productivity as a notion.
Productivity used to be considered “getting more done with fewer resources”. It was a survival tactic. The more you would reap, the more you would sow. Eating well led to stability…and a good life.
Then, the Industrial Revolution happened. We amassed even more with very same resources we had used before technology gave us a wallop of wealth. But suddenly, while the game had changed, human beings had not.
“From a business perspective,” says Stever, “the more productive you are, the more the business thrives.” According to the GetItDoneGuy, there is a myth of success we all have been taught to believe. The business does not necessarily give back in proportion to your level of input, yet we think if we give more, we will receive more, too. “We have confused what’s good for businesses with what’s good for human beings.”
The old saying “What’s good for GM is good for America” no longer applies. In fact, it is questionable if it every really did. Shareholder capitalism, meaning all excess profits and/or benefits of work flow go directly to the shareholder, not to the employees who produced it, has taken over the economic system. The social contract of lifetime employment and job security no longer exists.
According to Stever, the standard of living has actually gone down slightly since the 1970s, yet we have become almost ten times more productive. Productivity is, therefore, not the same as personal success.
When asked how we can maintain our equilibrium in the face of this transition, Stever wisely suggests finding a community to support your new undertaking.
“Don’t go it alone,” he advises. “The myth of independence is strong in our country, and it’s utterly false. People find balance and achieve great things by connecting with others and building community. Pick up the phone and start dialing.”
I claim we are in an age of redefinition. We are beginning to re-evaluate basic terms such as success, career, life, work, fun and enjoyment. Entrepreneurship, which focuses on real-world results, will once again take over. We may be selling strawberries and corn roadside, but we’ll be happy. And yes, successful, too!