On Productivity

Posted on May 8, 2020 by Riccardo

In my early university years I had reserved space on the wall for diplomas: I was in full exploratory mode. Among others I had certifications for cooking classes, public speaking, international cooperation, freestyle snowboarding, beer brewing.

I never became great at anything and I kept bouncing to the next strange thing on the list. However, the variety equipped me with many different lenses through which I could interpret and interact with the world around me.

Later on, when studies got more difficult, I bumped into the 80/20 principle:

For many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

It showed me how powerful is to focus on the right twenty percent. Or even better, it taught me not to waste time on the wrong eighty percent. Up until then I was just jumping into things. But armed with the 80/20 principle, I started to include meta-thinking into all my activities.

When I landed my first job, I thought I had the perfect productivity system. I could not understand why people wouldn't do things the way I was. As a result, my first few attempts at leading featured me forcing practices on the team. Unsurprisingly enough, it did not translate to great teamwork.

Recently, I was lucky to bump into Jessica Kerr's "Generativity":

Generativity – the difference between your team's outcomes with you, vs without you.

I heard it all the time that a team is more than the sum of its parts. Still, I kept focusing on my own output, thus encouraging everybody else to do the same.

In practice, I turned the team into the sum of its parts. Even worse, focusing on extreme personal productivity is a strong incentive for meaningless work: more garbage in, more garbage out (GIGO).

Generativity, on the other hand, focuses on "outcomes" and not output. Three productive people make three units of garbage, three generative people provide combinatorial units of value.

That's why, I don't want to be a rockstar anymore. Yes, it does feel great to extinguish fires. However, of all the great times I had working in teams, none of them was because I worked with a ninja who moved a lot of tickets to done. Not once.

In the rhymes of Rayden, the Italian rapper:

Ciò che conta non sono le vittorie ma avere una persona con cui condividerle.

What counts is not the victories but having someone to celebrate with.

Generativity provides both a chance for success and a team to celebrate with. I'm not going back!

Jessitron, thank you so much for sharing such a powerful concept together with a clear definition. Being able to give it a name makes all the difference in the world. Looking forward to steal more wisdom!


It's one of the selected few I follow every week – Mateusz

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