Knowledge Worker Productivity essay

Tom Davenport, a leading thinker on knowledge workers, underscores why this productivity is so important: “If our companies are going o be more profitable, if our strategies are going to be successful, if our society is going to become more advanced-?it will be because knowledge workers did their work in a more productive and effective manner. “2 The task of improving knowledge worker productivity is immense, and so are the consequences of failing to do so. In fact, Trucker warned that improving knowledge worker productivity is the “first survival requirement” of developed nations. Failure carries dire consequences for a nation’s economy and society. Significant efforts have been made in this quest, with varying degrees of success. Most endeavors have focused on the logical suspects-?work process, managerial practice, organizational structure, information technology and workplace ergonomics. 4 Despite these efforts, quantum gains in productivity have not flooded the workplace. In his blob, Davenport wondered why more headway wasn’t being made, even going so far as to ask, “Was Trucker wrong? “5 Alas, Trucker’s 21st century challenge is proving to be a tricky lock to pick.

Perhaps the key lies hidden elsewhere. Thus far, most energy has focused on the worker’s external environment. If, according to Trucker, the primary asset of a knowledge economy lies between the ears” of its knowledge workers,6 then maybe the key to enhancing productivity lies within the workers themselves. Productivity from the Inside Out An internally based exploration Of productivity asks different questions about how to optimize it. An inner approach examines how a knowledge worker manages-?or mismanages-?her internal experience, and helps her to see how her internal processes have a direct impact on her outward behavior.

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Some questions to ask How do knowledge workers use their attention to focus on and engage with work and one another? How can rigid, judgmental mindsets be hefted toward the openness, learning, and transformation that are the heart of innovation and problem solving? How do negative emotional reactions derail the work process or corrode the morale of a work group? Losses in productivity can often be traced to momentary events inside a person-?events whose outward expression disrupts clear thought and effective social interaction.

In short, visible behavior results from invisible processes that occur within a person’s inner black box, often with negative consequences: A senior executive’s emotional volatility makes him a scary person to report to. As a result, bad news does not get levered, and the right decisions are not made. The organization begins to reel off course. Defusing the inner churn that precedes his eruptions quells his outbursts and, in turn, changes how his people relate to him. A team leaders penchant for judgmental and sarcastic comments erodes team morale and performance.

Talent leaves the organization, along with the knowledge capital the company needs if it is to thrive. Teach the leader not to utter his acerbic thoughts and to be more supportive, and watch team performance Improve. An up-and-coming managers multitasking BlackBerry addiction compulsively distracts her attention in dieting. She misses key points, her colleagues feel disrespected, and decision-making takes longer. Her chances for promotion are diminished. If the manager keeps her attention focused, decisions proceed more smoothly and her team feels more respected.

In each example, maladaptive behavior can be traced to an event inside the worker that affects outward performance. But why should management be concerned? The answer becomes clear upon reflection. Trucker reminded us that “knowledge workers must be considered a capital asset. “7 If an organization is seeking to grow its assets and to maximize their return, and if knowledge workers’ radioactivity is deeply influenced by the workers’ inner states, then helping knowledge workers to cultivate optimal internal states becomes the responsibility Of management and, in effect, becomes an exercise in asset management.

If we know internal states affect behavior, then the productivity challenge shifts to how to manage these states effectively and how to improve them. In The Practice of Management, Trucker “illuminated the dark continent of management”8 and made conscious the inner workings of the organization. Analogously, the practice of self-management, as have coined the phrase, allows the worker to hind a light into his own inner black box to illuminate his internal processing, and then to transform these processes to enhance his effectiveness. The practice of self-management builds directly on recent advances in neuroscience, medicine and psychology.

The model melds Trucked classic themes of change and continual transformation with contemporary views on human development, providing a systematic framework of theory and practice to help knowledge workers better manage themselves, their work and their relationships. In the process, workers transform their individual and collective productivity and, in turn, generate more UAPITA for the organization. Creating the Practice of Self-Management developed the practice of self-management after conducting a research study that involved interviewing prominent, successful professionals dedicated to practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness practices are a method of attention development that enhances self-awareness, self-regulation and self-transformation. I’ll say more about what that means later. In recent years, mindfulness practices have received considerable scholarly attention. Research studies have demonstrated these practices improve numerous measures of well-being, including mental and physical health, self-regulation and the quality of relationships. 9 Outside of the academy, mindfulness practices produce tangible results in a variety of professional settings.

Such methods inform stress management programs used in hospitals in more than 26 countries around the world. 10 Mindfulness has been incorporated into legal training,1 1 and it has been applied successfully in professional sports, notably by coach Phil Jackson in his NAB championships with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angels Lasers. 12 The professionals interviewed in the research study included a Fortune 500 CEO, a well-known architect, a financier, senior corporate managers, medical researchers, a film director and a host Of other prominent knowledge workers.

Most of the time, met these people in person. Without fail, they were open, relaxed and attentive. They were not the stereotypical picture of the stressed-out but “successful” professional. Our conversations revealed a common refrain: “My life is so complex and demanding-?if I didn’t have these mindfulness practices, I think I’d be dead. ” Often they meant this literally. They produced medical records showing their previous high blood pressure, heart robbers and overweight conditions, or they shared stories of divorces and broken relationships. 3 Each person attributed his or her sustained success and well-being to a regular mindfulness practice. Their sustained internal training had resulted in significant transformation. During this time, I too was using these practices to confront a personal challenge. Diagnosed with a terminal illness at the age of 20, I was told I had a 90 percent chance of dying within five years. Having outlived that prognosis by decades, I knew the power of these methods intimately. One day, in a conversation about this search, my colleague Jean Lumbermen pointed out, “We rarely train managers to manage themselves. Her comment crystallized an insight for me: the inner world of the executive remained largely neglected. How ironic this all seemed to me, since my study had suggested internal self-management was the source of both professional effectiveness and professional failure. The notion of “managing oneself” was already present in Trucker’s work. 14 realized mindfulness could be the basis of a systematic discipline in self-management. The impulse to create a scientifically-based method of self-management for an expanding audience of knowledge workers was born.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience would help to explain why mindfulness works, providing a biological description for this seemingly mystical process. Understanding the function of the human nervous system would be the first step in transforming it for greater professional and personal effectiveness. Self-Management Means Managing Your Nervous System Self-management begins with the human nervous system, including (and especially) the brain. The brain lies at the center of knowledge work. Knowledge workers use their brains to focus, to decide and to act. Fortunately, few knowledge workers understand how their brain works. Selfsameness examines how the brain and the nervous system function, explores their limits and demonstrates how these limits can be effectively managed and transformed. Making knowledge workers more productive means helping them to use their brains better . 15 From this point onward, I will examine specific internal processes involved in self-management. The starting place for this examination is attention. Attention informs how we process experience, and at the same time, attention powers performance.

So, I will explore how attention can be used as a tool in a variety of applications, including how to transform nonperforming mindsets and how to manage emotional reactivity-?two elements that can deeply affect professional performance. Attention is the Foundation for Attention and our experience of the world are intimately linked: you are what you attend to. Attention powers our ability to perceive the outside world as well as to perceive our own actions, thoughts and emotions. The first step toward selfsameness, self-control, self- transformation and connection with others is to master attention.

Attention is fundamental. Over one hundred years ago, the retreat American psychologist William James recognized the essential role attention plays in self-management. James cited attention as “the very root of judgment, character and will,” and warned that people could not be masters of themselves if they failed to first control their attention. Furthermore, James declared that an education that enhances attention would be “the education par excellence. ” 16 At this point in the conversation, many people furrow their brows and say: “Huh? Attention?

If it’s so important, why haven I heard of it before? ‘ Good question. Here’s why. There are two reasons. First, modern education has usually favored the conceptual and abstract over the perceptual, which is one reason attention and its development seem foreign to most of us. Second, although Western psychology after James created theories Of development for cognition and emotion, it failed to create a theory of attention development. “Not paying attention to attention” is a massive cultural blind spot. The modern West has ignored the importance of preserving and developing attention, to its peril.

Japan, for example, has a wallpapered cultural heritage of “denationalization arts,” including the tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arrangement, arterial arts and archery. The fundamental purpose of these methods is to develop focus and awareness, as well as mental and emotional stability. A person is considered to be mature and civilized if she has at least one of these under her belt. Trucker, incidentally, was one of the Ignited States’ foremost collectors of Japanese art, a hobby he used to train his perceptive capacities.

Trucker and the Vital Need to Train Perception Peter Trucker recognized the West’s perceptual blindness when he wrote: “Descartes said, ‘l think therefore I am. ‘ We will now have to say also, ‘l see therefore I am. Mom Trucker realized modern management had overemphasized analysis and underrepresented perception. (In this discussion, Trucker used perception as a Synonym for attention. ) He echoed James’ century-old declaration: “[P]reception is at the center. And it can-?indeed it must-?be trained. “1 8 Why is perception important?

The greater facility I have in perceiving, the more and more subtle forms I am able to see. A well-developed perception allows a person to see hidden assumptions as well as new possibilities. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Trucker reminds us that “when a change in perception takes place, the facts do not change. Their meaning does. “19 How we see things influences how we understand them and how we can respond to them. Concentrated Attention: Focus Is Power For the knowledge worker, focused attention is what gets work done. It is the engine of productivity.

Complex mental operations cannot happen without a focused mind. Mildly Sentimentality’s studies of optimal experience find that focused attention is the basic ingredient for those exhilarating moments of flow when a person performs to his highest limits. 20 Conversely, distraction decreases cognitive efficiency. Interruptions in the flow of thought break momentum, which hen takes time to reestablish. Scattered and distracted attention wastes energy and results in less productive action. Thus, management should design work systems that help knowledge workers focus attention.

In terms of brain structures, attention is associated with the prenatal cortex (FPC), also known as “the inner CEO. ” This brain part is associated with directing and allocating attention. This area can be strengthened through systematic practice, just as a muscle Can be strengthened through exercise. A more developed prenatal cortex is associated with an increased ability to concentrate, connect, learn and make sessions. However, it can also be weakened through another “systematic practice”: multitasking.

Multitasking Damages Your Productivity, Your Relationships, and Your Brain Multitasking, or simultaneously splitting one’s attention across many tasks, has become an all-too-common rsum boast. Many people erroneously believe doing multiple things at once makes them more efficient. After all, if the PC on my desk can multicast, why can’t I? Workers look over their shoulder at their colleagues who are simultaneously talking on the phone, writing a report and eating a sandwich.