The #1 Skill Needed for Greater Productivity

SpaghettiWhen I was accepted at Tufts University in Boston I arrived feeling like a Geographical Distribution Requirement (GDR). My classmates were from both coasts, had attended fancy schools, dressed differently, and made fun of the way I talked. I was quite certain I’d been admitted strictly because they needed someone from a small town in fly-over country.

I kept my mouth closed throughout the fall and left the talking to my incredible classmates. It was well into the second semester before I realized that many of the fancy talkers weren’t saying anything. Not because they weren’t smart, but because they had been allowed, or maybe even encouraged, to talk regardless of whether they had something to say. They undoubtedly scored high marks in class participation. They used big words, spoke with poise, and said nothing. It was an eye-opener for me, a product of Lake Woebegon who would not dare waste anyone’s time unless I had something important to say.

That’s when I realized that I wasn’t just a GDR and that I deserved to be at Tufts. It took me many more years to realize the consequences of loquacious college graduates. This is our work force. Smart, talented, knowledgeable, industrious, determined people ready to make their mark on the corporate world. Able to converse widely, wisely, and enthusiastically, though not necessarily succinctly or moving in any particular direction.

Not everyone is so garrulous, but none of us took that class that makes discussions and decisions as smooth, streamlined, effective and efficient as a well-oiled production line. As a result:

  • Meetings resemble too many cooks tossing ingredients into a pot without knowing what they are cooking.
  • Rambling emails are cast as widely as a fisherman’s line trolled mile after mile and catching nothing but snags and bottom.
  • The thrill of “firefighting” trumps the hard work of getting something right the first time.
  • Consensus driven management sucks up endless time.

This isn’t to say that everyone is confused or incapable of being succinct, logical, and disciplined, but the clearest, most focused, most productive people in the world can be brought to their unproductive knees by the din wrought by multiple and diverging conversations, an image that epitomizes Corporate America.

If you want better results faster and with the commitment of others, you need to create clarity, not just individual clarity, but shared clarity. You need to make conversations, decisions, planning, and more as clear, intentional, and automatic as riding a bike.

The #1 Skill Needed for Increasing Productivity

The next time you are in a meeting and not participating heavily, try this experiment: Enumerate the number of distinct decisions and plans simultaneously under discussion. At first, you may believe the conversation is totally focused, but as you listen, you will start to hear multiple threads. Once you are able to pick out the 5 decisions and 2 plans, or whatever the number, you will see why it is possible to get twice the results in half the time with greater clarity.

Awareness is always the first step of improvement. If you can’t see the mess, the spaghetti interactions, the back-tracking, and lack of progress, if you are clarity blind, you will never be very clear.