Why re-inventing productivity will save you, your organisation (and the economy)

Blog | 13 Aug, 2015

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft made is annual appearance at Digital Journeys 2015 in Brighton last week, making it his fourth appearance at the event.

At this year's Digital Journeys Dave Coplin delivered an interesting and compelling presentation on “Why re-inventing productivity will save you, your organisation (and the economy).”

"Basically Star Trek is really important. Stick with me. I'll make it relevant. When you're a young guy, like I was, started teaching important lesson that technology's supposed to make a difference in your lives. It's supposed to be this thing that enables human beings to achieve more than they could do on their own. That's why I signed up for a career in IT. That's why I choose to work for Microsoft. And my problem is those 25 years in IT. Because I look around at how we all use technology today, all the whizzy, digital shit we do, the campaigns, all that stuff. I don't see a release. I don't see something that extends what we can do. I see something that controls how we think, constrains how we work, and I refuse to accept that as our future.

So my job today, as it's always been, is to show you that different future, to show you the true potential of technology so you can start to use it to change the way you live your lives for the better. Change the way you deliver campaigns for the better.

So three years ago, I wrote a book called, Business Reimagined, which is about how the way we work today doesn't work. Last year, I talked to you about a book I'd written called, The Rise of the Humans, which is about our personal relationship with technology. And this year, I'm halfway through writing a third book which is about productivity. And productivity is really important. You may not understand why, but I'm going to tell you today.

You should know -- Matt knows this -- I'm a cheap date. You can get all of the books except for the one I haven't written available for free on Amazon. Just if you've got Kindle, go there. You should also know I was an ex-management consultant. I am an ex-management consultant. So you will find no answers in these books. I was a good consultant, ladies and gentlemen.

The problem of productivity

But let me tell you about productivity. Productivity is a huge problem in the UK, and it's a huge problem in two dimensions. At a macroeconomic level, it's a huge problem. We are at our lowest growth in over 60 years. Our growth and productivity is down to lower than it was at the end of the Second World War. Against our G7 counterparts, we rank second from bottom. We suck at productivity.

But the real issue about productivity is not that we're not making enough stuff, it's just that we're not connected to what we do. And the real issue with productivity comes back to our definition of productivity, because we think productivity is some economic equation. It's output per unit of input, or output per time. Well, that doesn't work in a digital economy. It's not about time. It's about a very different thing. And the problem is because we're focused on the process of work, how many campaigns can we run? How quickly can we do this? How many hours does it take? We miss the outcome of work.

So when you're sat inside an organisation and you're focused on the process of work a couple of things happen. Let's use an example. Let's say I work for a car manufacturer and I'm on the production line. So I'm on the production line and I'm making widgets. Why this is the gesture for making widgets, I don't know. I've never made a widget. But I'm sure if you did make a widget something like this would be making widgets, pulling pints. It's all the same. So here I am making widgets and because I work in an organisation that's based on a series of standardised processes that are interlinked, my salary is based on the quality of the widgets I make, not the quality of the car that the widgets go into. So frankly, I do not give a stuff how good the car is coming off the production line as long as my widget's the best damn widget this company has ever seen, I'm golden.

I am completely disconnected from the outcome of my organisation, because the process makes me focus there. You guys are all the same.

If you're in a place where you're focused on the performance of your team or of the individual campaigns, then you're not connected to the outcome of your organisation, be you a brand, be you an agency. Then there's a danger there because you're working in different ways.

Standardised interlinked processes

And then the other issue is when you've got an organisation that's based on a series of standardised interlinked processes, when your market changes, when your client asks you to do something different, when you hit a recession, the only way you can react to that is you have to break up your entire organisation before you can respond. So productivity in our old definition has become a massive barrier to what we do and we have to change that. The other problem with productivity is actually productivity has got nothing to do with just work. Productivity is all about how we live our lives. Who amongst you has more available free time in your personal lives than you've ever had before? Whatever you're doing, I want your secret. And you've just got married, too. You should be really busy.

The challenge is that this whole concept about productivity has spilled out into our lives, because time has a value now. Time has a value, because it's what we do at work and in a world where time has a value, we start making decisions about what we're going to do. And in our lives, we start thinking about what we do. We shouldn't be talking about work-life balance like they're two separate things. It's just life. We should be making different choices that enable us, as the Google video tells us, to make the most of the moments that matter.

Precious, precious resource

So we live in a world where time is our precious resource. It's our most precious resource. Benjamin Franklin once said that time is money. I think he was wrong. I think he may have been right then, but in a digital economy, today in a digital society, time is far more valuable than money. I would give anything to have more time to do the things I need to do, but I can't do that. I can only work in a different way.

It's alright for you, you long-haired, beardy git, won't use people in technology. You're the buggers who are supposed to make this work. You're the buggers that are supposed to make this go away. Well, the thing is, the challenge with technology has got nothing to do with the technology itself, it has everything to do with how we use it. The real issue with productivity and how we use technology today is we still work in the same way that our Victorian ancestors did. Most of the business processes you fulfil, most of the ways that you communicate with your colleagues, with your clients are based on processes that are 200 years old. And all we use the technology for is to make those old ways of working a bit quicker.

Email vs. office memos

A classic example is e-mail. E-mail is just the digital version of an old analog business process we used to have called office memos. Anybody remember those? Yeah. You're all too young. There's an old bloke in the back nodding. Office memos, the analog process of communication. I'd go to the stationery cupboard. I'd pull out a piece of paper. I'd scratch out your name, scratch out my name, stuff it in an envelope and it would get sent off. What happened to that process? We happened to that process. The geniuses in IT. We came along. We digitised that process, man. We made it fast. We made it efficient. We made it slick. We made it cheap.

Who amongst you does not get enough email? All right. I'm going to write a punch line for that joke. We get the pain. We never once said, "You know what? Maybe we could communicate in a different way." All we did is we replicated an old way of working. This is the fundamental barrier to productivity. As long as we use technology to replicate the old stuff, we never get to do the new stuff. So your choice now is you cannot work smarter.

Working smarter does not happen. So the only thing you can do is work harder, but then you buggers don't work harder. Do you? Why don't you work harder? Well, most employees don't work harder, because, frankly, they can't be bothered to work harder.

Employee engagement

We have a huge problem with employee engagement. Around the world actually, but specifically in the UK, the average engagement of the UK workforce is 17%, one-seven. Which means 83% of the UK workforce is not really that bothered about what they do. I don't care. I just turn up and get me money. I don't do what I like. And this is terrible. You know, I'm not making any moral judgment about whether it's better to live to work, work to live. The reality is given how long you will all spend at work in our working lives, the reality of not being engaged is terrifying.

And then it doesn't take a genius to figure out the correlation between engagement and your organisation's performance. The UK government did a study in 2009 that basically showed the cost of engagement in the UK economy, the cost of having 83% of the workforce disengaged is 44 billion quid a year, in lost productivity. And this is the challenge that we really have to get to.

Can Big Data save the day?

Now the thing is there's a bunch of technologies that are coming now that could change this. If we can get the culture of the organisation right. We can fix some of this stuff. And I want to talk to you about a few. So I want to be the first person today, I can't believe I'm going to be the first person today to talk about big data. I mean, we talked about bullshit bingo earlier on. I've got to win some kind of prize by talking about big data. But the thing is still to this day, I mean Matt and I have been here at this event for four years and we talk about data all the time, but I still think we misconstrue data.

The real opportunity with data is that the more data we have, I guarantee you, the questions that you have been asking yourselves for years, the answers that you get fundamentally change when you have more data. The more data you have, the more insight you get, the more you will be surprised. My favourite example of this point. Here we have two cars. A Toyota Prius. A Land Rover Defender. Which of these two vehicles is better for the planet? Put your hand up if you think it's the Toyota Prius. That's about half of you. Put your hand up if you think it's a trick question and it's the Land Rover Defender. Put your hand up if you want to be a management consultant and you know the answer is it depends, because it does depend. It depends on how broad a view of data you take.

If you take a really narrow view of data, and this is typically what we do when we're analysing our campaign. We look really narrowly at just the data we have. In this example, let's just take fuel consumption, but of course if you're looking at fuel consumption, the best of these two vehicles for the planet is the Toyota Prius. That thing runs on Pixie Dust and water, hugs trees when you drive by. Not like the bloody Defender that drinks diesel.

Land Rover vs. Prius

Well, actually back in 2008, the Americans did a big data study on this problem. They took an approach that they called 'Dust to Dust', so from the creation of the components that go to make the vehicle through to the point at which the vehicle is thrown on the scrap heap, the best of these two vehicles for the planet is the Land Rover Defender. Why? Because over 75% of every Land Rover ever made over the last 60 years is still on the planet. You cannot break these vehicles. Trust me. I've tried. And if you do break them, you'll fix them with bubble gum and bay leaf wire.

So this is not a commercial for Land Rover. It's just simply to say the more data you have, the more the answers are going to change. And they're going to surprise you. So your job, you should make it your duty to gather as much data as you can about any question that you're asking.

But the real gift of data is coming soon. And actually in many cases, it's already arrived and this is using data to accurately predict what will happen. Now this isn't some half-assed down the pub on a Saturday afternoon who's going to win the 3:20 at Chepstow prediction. This is using the power of data to provide real, proper insight that actually will specifically tell you what will happen. You want to know which of the videos in your campaign will go viral. This kind of approach is going to do that. Now companies like Google and Microsoft have been doing this for a couple of years.

At Microsoft, we've been doing it for at least 18 months. We did the World Cup last year. We got 15 out of 16 World Cup games right. We did the Scottish Referendum. We got that right within 2% of the vote. We've done Pop Idol, X Factor. We even, ladies and gentlemen -- highlight of my career -- we even did Eurovision Song Contest this year. A proud moment for me. And we get it right. Better still, we're making this insight available to you. And the issue for you is how would you run your business? How would you run your campaigns? How would you work with your customers in a world when you can accurately predict what will happen? These are the questions you have to start asking yourself, because it's a world that's fast coming.

Now what's also driving this is what I like to call a technological Copernican shift, because I, like you, can use Wikipedia. Now a Copernican shift is basically, Copernicus, he walks up in 1534, turns up to his academic buddies, he says you buggers have got it all wrong. It's not the Sun that goes around the Earth, it's the Earth that goes around the Sun. And in that instant, thousands of years of everything we know about the world around us, just took its turn on its head. We have to relearn everything we know. The same thing is happening with our relationship with technology. If you think about what happens today, today we gravitate around technology. If I want to use technology, I have to pick up my phone. I have to sit in front of my telly. I have to go to my PC.

Ubiquitous computing

We're a fast moving into a world, a world of ubiquitous computing where the technology surrounds us. It's a world of connected devices where every floor tile, every light bulb, every window, every wall surface, everything is a connected device that is spewing out data about the world around us. It's a world where the floor tiles will know not just how many times they've been stood on, but how many times I stood on them versus how many times Matt may have stood on them.

And if you then add to this world, a world of ambient intelligence, so intelligent agents like Siri and Google's Now and our Cortana, who starts to proactively work on that information. And we have lots of examples. Matt talked about one, getting off the phone and using Now to book your taxi through Uber. We have Cortana. Cortana knows where I am. She knows where my next meeting is, because she has access to my calendar. If those two locations are geographically separate, she'll start monitoring the traffic and tell me if the traffic builds up, if I need to leave earlier than planned. And where we're going is a world of pre-emptive information, a world where we bring these smart environments together that changes human experience.

And I've actually got a project that will demonstrate this. This has come out of our research labs. You know it's got to come from our research labs and not our product teams, because as the catchy title, Situational Interaction Mark 4. And this is a world of ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence. And as the video plays, I'm just going to run it over the top.

All we've done is we've equipped one of our labs with a series of sensors, a series of cameras. So the cameras know that there are two blokes walking towards the elevator. Now knowing that there are two blokes walking towards the elevator, I also know specifically who those two blokes are, because I'm looking at their face. Knowing who those two blokes are means I can look in their calendars and I can see which meeting room they're about to go to. And I know it's meeting room 5.14, so I'm going to send the elevator to the fifth floor. They haven't got to press a button. This is the technology working in action. This is basically about using a rich environment, the context of some individuals to deliver a different experience. Now hold that thought.

The tube shuffle

Transfer this into the world of outdoor advertising. How many of you work in London? A few of you? Those of you that work in London may be familiar with a pastime I call the Tube shuffle. You will have a different name for it, but it's basically you're traveling around London going to see the client or going to some place that you've never been to before. And you arrive and you're at roughly the right location, because you're at the right Tube station, but you don't know specifically where you go from here and so for the next few minutes, you engage in my favorite pastime, which is the Tube shuffle, because as you emerge from the Tube, your gaze is down. You enter the post code of the place you're trying to go and for the next five minutes, this is you. You're walking down the street. Eyes down. You're stepping in dog poo. You're bumping into people. You know? No idea and then, ah shit, it's the wrong way. It's this way. Ah, man. Your gaze is right down here.

In this world, it's really, really different. Because as I emerge from the Tube, as I walk past the first digital billboard, my gaze is already up. The digital billboard knows it's me, knows where I'm going, knows the context of the persona I'm using in that precise moment in time, serves me an ad that's relevant to that persona and crucially in the bottom right of the ad is a little green arrow says, well done, Dave. The office is just down here two minutes away.

This is the world of ubiquitous computing blended with ambient intelligence, a world that we're building where the context of the individuals is as important as the content that you provide them with. So moving forward how can you use some of this stuff? Well, look. First of all, we have to get to grips with what the role of technology really needs to play. And this is Microsoft's job.

Our job is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. And we can have a long discussion about what achieve more means, but basically, it's my job to make sure that you have a really great experience with technology that fundamentally changes your capability. That you can do stuff that was never before possible. That's productivity in my definition.

But in order to do that, we've got to reframe your relationship with technology. We've got to take you away from those bloody emails and Power Points and all that shit and instead, we've got to get you back to a place where the technology is enabling you to create stuff. And one of the things that's really nice about Microsoft is we have a bunch of really clever people who are thinking about how this future might play out. And every few years they put together a really nice, slick video. And I'm going to play the video, and then I'm going to talk to you about some of the things, the concepts that you'll see there.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that's all very good, but that's just science fiction, right? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you you're absolutely right. All of that stuff's made up, completely made up, except for one thing. The guys that put that video together have one design principle, and that is that they can only show a technology if we have something working already in our labs. Everything that you saw there today, as a principle, a functional principle, is working in our labs. We have a working prototype of the Star Trek holodeck, right? You imagine how happy I am about that. A world where I can walk into the room, the room is configured around me. I can project three-dimensional objects that I can interact with. I can project a sphere or ball. I can pick it up. I can throw it around the room.

This stuff is coming. And the reason this video is really important is you better start thinking about the way you work, about the kind of experiences you want to build for your audiences, for the customers that you have. Because only when you start thinking in a really different way, can you start to get technology in the right way for it to do the things that you need to do. In order to do that, you've got to think in a really different way. We have a massive problem as human beings, is that we find it really hard to think about things differently, especially when it's about the future.

The future isn't straight line

Our view of the future is essentially, if we want to predict the future, we plot a straight line from the past through the present, and we extrapolate out. And whatever comes out of that straight line will be the future. Well, the future is not a straight line. The future bounces around. There's lots of random stuff happens. And to show you the problem with this kind of thing, I want to pick on a classic example, and it's the example of the driverless car. Now, don't get me wrong, the driverless car is a fantastic piece of technology. It's an amazing thing, and there are many, many use cases why this would be great. But the numbers are worth looking at because the numbers say that, basically, it won't be till 2040, until about 50% of all miles ever driven will be driven by an autonomous vehicle, and that number doesn't reach 100% until we hit 2070. So do you seriously want to tell me that in 2070 we still think the best way for humans to get around is going to be inside a metal box, albeit a robotic one? That can't be right.

Better still, does anybody know what the first law that the U.K. has passed for the provision of autonomous vehicles on our roads, the first law? It's that we have to have in an autonomous vehicle a human individual inside the vehicle at all times, and that human individual needs to be designated as, I don't know, let's just call him the driver, or her, the driver, and the driver has to monitor all of the controls.

This is the problem we have with technology, because while we're sitting, thinking that the future is in a straight line and that we should just carry on what we've done for hundreds of years, nobody is thinking about alternative forms of transport. I don't want a bloody driverless car. I want a hover board. Better still, what about this? Who's working on this? Nobody's working on this because we think the future's in a straight line, but it isn't in a straight line. And there are all sorts of different things. I guarantee you, the future of personal travel is more likely to be autonomous drones than it is autonomous vehicles.

But this is the challenge that you have in your business: If you want to think about the future, if you want to anticipate the future needs of your client, forget the straight line. Think in a different way. Think transformatively about what might happen. Think about the outcomes of what you're trying to do, not the process that gets you there.

We have a real issue with process in the U.K., and it goes back to some guy called Frederick Winslow Taylor. He was the guy who basically invented time and motion and decided that everything we did had a specific time that it could be done by. The U.K. workforce, for example, 77% of the UK workforce thinks a productive day at work is emptying their inbox. I find that terrifying. When did email become work itself? Email is the process of work. It is not the outcome of work. So if you start looking at outcomes, you start to figure out which bits of process you can throw away.

Understanding the purpose of your organisation

And then there's the purpose of your organisation. What is the point of what you do? If you can't answer that, if your employees can't answer that, the point of what you do, then how can they ever deliver against it? You need your employees to use every bit of skill, every experience they have, to deliver the most wonderful, engaging solutions for your customers. If they don't understand the purpose of what you're trying to do, they can never do that. They can only use a really narrow window of skills, and that's the skill they use to fulfil their little job description. And that lays waste to all the other stuff they have to bring with them.

And then there's your own relationship with technology, and there's a few things you've got to start doing. Now, it's fairly obvious, and some may say it's a bit dangerous for me, a person from Microsoft, to say there's a huge problem with email. Now, let's get this straight, I love email, me. Email is a wonderful thing. It's just, it's misused. The real issue with email today has got nothing to do with technology. It's the buggers that send emails that are the problem, not the technology itself. But the real issue with email is email hides knowledge. Email hides knowledge away from your organisation. There's a guy called Bill French. He has this lovely quote: "Email is where knowledge goes to die." Think about it. Think about all of the amazing information and value that's locked up in your email inbox, trapped away where only one person can see it, and it's waiting, waiting to be passed through the bottleneck, you, until it can be transmitted to the rest of your organisation.

Start working in different ways

So start working in different ways. You all do it on social media, so why wouldn't you collaborate internally like this? Collaborate out in the open. Have conversations out in the open. Use enterprise social platform to change the way you work. You will reaffirm your relationship with email. You will transfer knowledge far more efficiently inside your organisation, and you'll start to leverage the power of what you can do cumulatively.

And then the real trick to productivity is something that will be really counterintuitive to most people. If you want to be truly, truly productive, you need to start to think about how you can do less in more time. I get that sounds weird. The problem we have today is everything's about, "Let's do this task. Let's do this task. Let's do this task. Let's do this task. Let's do this task." The problem with that is, A, we suck at multitasking, B, this whole task completion thing is a misnomer because you can spend all day doing your email and get bloody nowhere.

Shallow productivity vs. deep productivity

What you've got to do instead is split out your working day into two spaces, shallow productivity and deep productivity. Shallow productivity is you communicating, right? It's you answering emails, talking over the water cooler, answering social media, whatever it might be. But that's just shallow productivity. You're not moving forward very far. The real prize comes from a place called deep productivity, and this is the place when you're writing a book, creating the creative for the campaign, whatever it might be. And that's the time when you need to be undisturbed. That's the time when you need to be in a quiet environment, not a noisy, busy, chaotic, open-plan office.

But the real issue is that the way we run our schedules today is we publish our schedules in these lovely electronic diaries, and we basically say, "Do you know what? Whatever you want to do with my time is okay by me because you're all more important than me and what I do with my time. Fill up my diary with your meaningless shit, right? Because I'll just turn up, right? I'll just turn up to a meeting because that's what I'm supposed to do." How insane is that? It's the only part of your life where you hand over the keys to what you're doing for the next eight hours to somebody else, to the crowd. What you need to be doing is to take back control of your diary. If there are times when you need to be creative, start being mischievous. Book some time in for yourself in your diary. Take back control of your diary because then you'll get back control of your schedule, and when you have got back control of your schedule, you, not somebody else, can decide when is the best thing for you to do the thing that you need to do with that creative work or whatever is may be.

Time-shifting

And then the final thing is about time shifting. Now we're really used to time shifting. When it comes to how we consume media today, very rarely do people succumb to their schedule. When was the last time you sat down to watch Coronation Street or East Enders at 7:30 or whenever it's on? Nobody does that. We've got iPlayer. We've got YouTube. We have PVRs, all that stuff. But do you know what? The whole point of technology is to enable you to do that to the rest of your life. We're all stuck in this world where we think the only time we can work is, A, when we're sat inside a physical container of our organisation and, B, if it's between 9 to 5 on a Monday to Friday. Well, who said that's how we should work? Technology enables us to work in any location at any time of day.

And if we really want to talk about making the most of the moments that matter, most of the moments that matter to me don't happen according to a schedule. They happen when my family needs me or when my work needs me, and I need to be able to make a choice. If I need to be able to be here today, I may be at home tomorrow in my time, I need to be able to make the choice. The technology makes that possible. All you need is the culture to support it. You need the process, as a human being, to say, "Do you know what? I don't need to go to work at 9 a.m. tomorrow. I'm going to do something that's more important to me at that specific time. I realise that, in doing that, I may then work that evening or over the weekend." But you have the power, and you have the control. And it's time that you started exerting it.

Questions, questions

I'm going to leave you with one final thought, and it comes from a wonderful, wonderful quote from a guy called Pablo Picasso. Mid '60s, it's Paris, right? He's being interviewed by some art magazine, and why Pablo Picasso is being asked about computers I will never know, right? And remember that computers in mid '60s in Paris are very different to the computers we have. But the answer is the same, and it's the answer I want to leave you with, because the question was basically, "Pablo, what do you think about computers?" And he had this beautiful line, which was, "Well, computers? Computers are useless because all they can give are answers. What I need is something that can come up with the right questions."

And that something is you. Your job, forget the things that you're trying to do, is to figure out, what are the right questions to be asking? What are the questions that you need to ask if you're going to get the right answer for the client? What are the questions that you need to ask if you're going to have the right kind of life, use technology in the right kind of way? And if you remember that it's you that's asking the questions, not the machines, then your relationship with technology changes. You reclaim and you reinvent productivity, and you deliver in a way that was never before possible. Ladies and gentleman, thank you very, very much."

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