Productivity | The Decision Making Landscape

In the second installment of The Decision Making Landscape, Art Hair highlights some key factors that play a consistent role in the decision making process.
Arthur Hair
Contributing CIO

In this second segment describing my Decision Making Landscape, I will peel back the layers of Productivity and explain why it is a truism that has stood the test of time and why it is such an important element of my decision-making process.

When I was a student at Purdue University, I learned of the people, process, and technology paradigm that shapes productivity. But, it was the culture of innovation at Texas Instruments that pushed my understanding of productivity to a higher level. Back in the 1980s, Texas Instruments held monthly contests where anyone could submit a Method Improvement Report. The company rewarded those that drove innovation, and they strongly believed that innovation could come from anywhere.

Each employee must be seen as a source of ideas, not just a pair of hands.

Chairman of Texas Instruments

I fell in love with this attitude, and it became a habit for me to look for ways to continually optimize the relationship between people, processes, and technology. Years later, when I finally put my decision-making process on a single piece of paper, it felt obvious to include Productivity because any future decision I would make should avoid any risk of jeopardizing the company’s productivity. I realized I should always be highly sensitive to the optimized relationship among people, processes, and technology. The Venn Diagram below illustrates where these three spheres overlap to naturally form the sweet spot representing the company’s productivity.

A technology executive is generally very comfortable making productivity decisions. But productivity, and its underlying elements, should never be taken for granted. Technology by itself is wholly ineffective without a close integration with people and processes. Productivity starts with people, and without properly trained people manipulating technology, the technology alone becomes irrelevant. Lastly, the process evolves as people individually, or as teams, progress down the learning curve of any technology.

I can’t imagine any form of productivity happening if any one of these three elements is missing. Maybe one or more spheres could be added to represent additional elements, but the three shown above seem to be the absolute minimum necessary to define Productivity. Therefore, a healthy interaction among people, processes, and technology can all conspire together to drive productivity. It is the collective responsibility of those who contribute individually within an organization to ensure their daily activities fall within that sweet spot as they optimize company productivity. They should also strive to understand that productivity is continually influenced by organizational agility and more so by the customer’s lifestyle.

It is the collective responsibility of those who contribute individually within an organization to ensure their daily activities fall within that sweet spot as they optimize company productivity.

I have several examples of why I believe Productivity is a truism, something that can stand the test of time. Let’s start with a complicated and multi-person effort that showcases just how productive a team of people can be when they’re working together. Take the launching of a jet fighter off the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The combination of people (flight deck personnel, a pilot), process (marshaling a jet into position and activating the catapult), and technology (the jet, the catapult, the aircraft carrier itself) all work together to safely launch the pilot into the air. The more the team collaborates, the more productive they become. As productivity increases, so does the likelihood that improvements to the process will occur and innovations to the various technologies will be thought of.

To see if the Productivity truism can stand the test of time, let’s take people, processes, and technology back 10,000 years to the beginning of agriculture and farming.

The Egyptian drawing above of early agriculture shows how people (farmers), process (plowing the earth and sowing seeds), and technology (a rudimentary plow) work together to be productive. One might consider this image to be high-tech for the era, due to the addition of an Ox to increase productivity.

Now let’s take the discussion of Productivity to the ultimate extreme, before Homo sapiens, back to the time of Homo erectus. Archaeologists have uncovered hand tools dating back over 1.7 million years.

The hand tools in the photograph above were considered to be advanced technologies of that era. They were made and used by our distant ancestors, Homo erectus, to improve their lives. So, people (Homo erectus), process (butchering hunted game and scraping animal hides), and technology (a finely shaped piece of obsidian rock) shaped Productivity long before written history. The archaeological record showed a pattern of incremental improvements to stone tools over the ages. This shows that productivity was alive and well and improving the human condition even before we Homo sapiens were around to pontificate about things like Productivity. Yes, this example is just a bit extreme, but I think it effectively shows that people, process and technology are the three most basic elements needed to define Productivity. For me, Productivity is a truism. It is something that has stood the test of time, something that I can count on, and it has earned a prominent spot on my Decision Making Landscape.

Over the next few weeks, Segments 3-4 will dig deeper into the composition of the two other truisms, Corporate Agility, and Customer Lifestyle. More importantly, I will explain how they also have stood the test of time.

Check out the previous segment of the Decision Making Landscape below:
I. Technology Isn’t Everything

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