Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Additional thoughts on pico-productivity

I sometimes wonder what our goals are for managing knowledge workers and information exchange. We can take a life cycle perspective where we hire a new employee that may know nothing. The are raw clay. We develop that employee until they become... what... a machine? Here's a potential model:


In this model we see our raw recruit get groomed into something much more specialized: a machine. We have essentially taken out all of their individuality and "soldiering" and turned them into a perfectly repeatable machine. Of course, there's some middle ground. For example, we might not have a machine but a worker that does a highly repeatable and measurable task with documented procedures and good controls (and ignoring Roy's concept of "banana time").

Of course, we might end up envisioning something else. Instead of a machine we might want a highly effective individual operator or Terminator:



Here too, there is a downside. Not every employee has the potential to be a Terminator. For that matter, rarely does a Terminator have the chance to be a Terminator. How often does such a clear cut mission actually occur? We have to ask ourselves how effective a Terminator would be in fulfilling all of the administrivia that creeps into our jobs. Just imagine: the Terminator does performance reviews; the Terminator attends a month-end meeting; the Terminator takes another HR course; etc.

A bigger risk is that our trained employee simply becomes lost in the mechanics of the machine we have built in an effort to increase efficiency!



I do have a bigger point in this analysis. I'm really thinking about how to optimize the different steps in the model. How, for example, do we make sure that we get the right recruits. The Hudson's Bay Company, for example, basically had various captive charity schools to produce recruits. There's also the issue of effectively socializing these recruits and developing a base set of skills. All soldiers, for example, need to do basic training before specializing. There's also the issue of how we develop specialized skills. What do the training and apprenticeship programs look like? And ultimately, how do we start taking some of the repeatable tasks and mechanizing them?

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