February 13, 2019

Increasing productivity and adding value through learning

When you think about productivity, some of the things that probably come to mind are speed, volume and reducing time wasted. While these are all related to productivity, we often overlook another important aspect of productivity, which is creating value and impact.

Modern technology has given us many tools and applications to increase our productivity. We no longer rely solely on snail mail or the telephone to interact with colleagues and clients — we have the convenience of email, text messages, collaboration software, and video conferences.

But, do all these high-tech aids really increase our productivity? To an extent, yes. I got to thinking about this after watching a video interview with Seth Godin, an American author, and pioneering dot-com entrepreneur. He observed that today we have access to many productivity tools on our phones to minimise the time we waste.

With our time better managed because of all those tools, we have more time, Mr. Godin said. The big question that comes to mind is, to do what? The answer to this would obviously be to do more, which is to increase the volume of work and results.

But in a world where more jobs are being automated so that more can be done at a quicker pace, the productivity of human beings shouldn’t simply be about pushing volume — it should be about creating impact and value. As the age-old wisdom goes: “Quality over quantity”.

Increasing speed and volume are no longer the main focuses when computers and robots can easily replicate many human tasks. But machines are not good at making connections, risk-taking and insight — these are the things that we, as people, can contribute to creating impact, thus increasing productivity.

Learning is one great way to increase your productivity and help you create more impact and value than simply increasing volume, something machines will continue to do in increasing numbers.

First, continuous learning means continuously adding value for yourself. When you’re learning, whether it’s reading a book or going to workshops, you always add new knowledge. This adds value to your skills that you’ll be able to use at work and in daily life.

Whether you’re revisiting old content that you’ve learned before or looked into a completely new topic, you’re constantly adding value to yourself and your work when learning.

But learning by simply attaining knowledge is not enough. This brings us to the second point: true learning requires a practice that prompts action, and eventually leads to impactful results. Increasing productivity is not simply about doing more things. With learning, you practice what you have learned and increase your productivity n other ways.

When you’re practicing, you not only become more productive in your work, but you’re creating a purpose for that learning. You test out and apply that knowledge to determine whether it works in real life or not. Of course, you may face failure, but that is also part of learning. The point is, you’re acting.

In fact, failure brings us to the third point: with learning, you face failure and with failure, you learn new lessons. Failure, though it is something we try to avoid, is actually the best way to be productive. This is because you’ve gone out to do something and taken risks, even if it just didn’t work out.

With failure, you learn what went wrong and use those lessons to avoid the same mistakes or prepare better ways to overcome challenges should they arise again. You’re gaining more than losing, and you’ll be able to create a bigger impact in the future.

Fourth, learning helps you to identify weaknesses. In addition to the lessons you gain from failure, you also will be able to learn what you’re lacking at in terms of skills. The skill demands of today continue to change because of advances in technology. Once you understand your weaknesses, you can learn to improve in those areas.

You’re not only adding value to yourself, your team and organisation from improving in areas where you are weak, but you’re also keeping up with the changes in skill demand that our business landscape will continue to face.

When it comes to productivity, it is important to remember that in this day and age, volume and speed can already be executed by machines. So, for people, we must be able to be productive by creating impact and value. This is how we’ll be best able to keep up with the changes in our world.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@new.seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa