Productivity's very human limitations


Productivity's very human limitations

Productivity is an unwieldy sounding word but it comes up a lot in IT speak, usually as a promise or an outcome. "Increased productivity" is the favourite - well, people are hardly likely to trumpet "decreased productivity" in their business.

I have to admit to a level of scepticism about productivity because I'm fairly convinced that in all areas of human industry from business to financial institutions, the public sector and government, there is a base level of inefficiency which cannot be improved unless you strip out the human element entirely.

In other words, in any process involving human interaction, there is a built in level of unproductivity which exists because we are humans rather than machines. For instance, the Internet has revolutionised the way in which we access information and communicate. But, because we're human, we tend to fritter away a chunk of the productivity benefits delivered by technologies such as the Internet and email in pastimes like online shopping (or rather window shopping) and watching some idiotic video about a cat on youtube. 

As a result, employers are forced to spend more money and time installing systems that either block or monitor their employees' use of the Internet to try and stop them clogging the network. Every time you think you've fixed one productivity problem, you create another. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form to another. The same is true, to some extent, for unproductivity.

This was first published in February 2011

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