The Vast Abundance of Space

Yesterday I had a three hour gap between my two meetings in the city. For once, I had resisted the temptation to fill that space with a third meeting. Given a little time to stop and reflect, I discovered again things that I had forgotten in my blur of commitments:

  • projects I had conceived but never started
  • conversations I had started but never finished
  • opportunities that I had not given time
  • creative endeavours that needed room for reflection and practice
  • lessons of the last few months work

Productivity is not an outcome of the use of every moment of time. Productivity is an outcome of using time in the most effective ways possible. Using time to advantage means making choices and working on the most valuable tasks. You cannot use time to advantage if you do not have the space to reflect, to create and to learn.

Rethinking work is part of the vast abundance of opportunity in space.  Give yourself a little more.

The Three Meeting Rule

Meetings are rarely ever doing. Constraining the daily meetings forces choice and improves effectiveness.

When I started as a consultant I carried over practices from corporate life. I wanted to fill my days with meetings. I had a need to network and to build my business. I needed to tell my story and win work. I took a lot of meetings and spent days running around town.

I was soon reminded how unproductive the meeting circuit was. Taking every meeting chewed up lots of time, created lots of activity and spent energy. The commutes between meetings alone took hours. However it delivered few results.

Reflecting on my lack of productivity I implemented a daily rule of no more than 3 meetings. Limiting meetings had an immediate benefit in creating time to think, to do work and to make choices. A limit also made me much more focused on which meetings to take. I also found that many other meetings could be swapped for a quick phone call, a video chat or an exchange of information.

Any arbitrary rule should always be honoured in the breach. I occasionally take another meeting but now I do so reflecting on the value of that meeting and its cost in my time. Overall my productivity has risen as I look for other ways to get work done.

How would a limit on meetings work for you?

Human Potential is Exponential

Managing the productivity of people is increasingly important as our economy adjusts to increasing an increasing share of knowledge work. For many organisations labour is already the most significant cost of production.

Many organisations adopt a traditional efficiency management mindset when it comes to managing people. The view that their people have a fixed potential contribution means that the organisation will miss the opportunity that flows from increasing human potential.

Leverage the Growing Potential of People

People are the most unique input to your production process. Their contributions offer the potential for exponential increases in value. The potential of people is not fixed. You will struggle to make steel exponentially more useful in your process but you can quickly help your people to create exponential increases in value in their work.

We know people’s skill can increase over time as the learn and gain experience in their roles.  Most organisations work to foster the learning of its people to better leverage their growing productivity from new skills. Growth in skills delivers significant improvements in the potential of your people.

As benefit of the leadership conversations to develop people you also discover that your people have capabilities to contribute to your organisation in ways far beyond their current role & performance. Leveraging this potential through new assignments, new challenges and new roles is essential to development of talent and better performance.

Networks Accelerate Potential

However, people have one other critical capability over most factors of production. People can also network to accelerate their learning and productivity. Metcalfe’s law tells us that in a network the value increases exponentially with the number of people connected. People working, learning and sharing in a network experience this exponential impact on their potential.

How can networking with others, through working out loud deliver exponential increases in value to people working in your organisation?

Networks enables your people to realise greater potential through:

  • greater access to knowledge, a faster pace of knowledge flow and most importantly accelerated opportunities for people to share and to learn from each other
  • access to consult perspectives, skills and experience that they have not yet acquired through conversations with peers and others.
  • the ability to accelerate the growth of their own personal connections by leveraging networks to find additional friends, colleagues, stakeholders, experts or others who can help add value to their work
  • building purpose, trust & engagement within and outside your organisation. Lack of trust is a major barrier to productivity in organisations. A sense of purpose and engagement have major influences on people’s contributions at work, particularly discretionary efforts.

Most importantly of all, people aren’t just an input to your work. People organised and empowered by networks can work together on improving your system & processes of work. All of a sudden you have the potential for major leaps in the value of your work as collaboration drives innovation


If you are wondering how to get started to leverage the exponential potential of your people in networks, then Harold Jarche just described the way to get going with working out loud, personal knowledge management, distributing authority and building a common vision.

Beware of sprezzatura

An perception trails the highly productive. Others can doubt their achievements on the basis that success comes too easily or that other forces are at play.

High personal productivity is usually an outcome of shaping your work to deliver where you are most effective. When you apply your strengths, work with capable people and are powered by your life’s purpose, you are in the sweet spot of performance. Results often come at a pace, further connections are built easily and challenges are quickly addressed.

The support of others, your personal productivity and the swift outcomes can make the difficult look easy. Some modest souls even deliberately encourage the notion that their personal productivity is not as challenging as it looks. In either case, the actual amount of effort can be lost. Thanks to Renaissance Italian courtiers, we have a term for the art of making the artful look artless, sprezzatura.

As occurred in Italian courts, a consequence of sprezzatura is that people begin to doubt the nature of your actions. Three doubts are particularly dangerous for those who appear to deliver with ease:
  • doubt as to your authenticity – if people start to see you performance as unnatural or effortless they will begin to doubt your authenticity. Often this will be combined with doubts as to your intent and or the basis for your success. Over time these doubts can be highly damaging.
  • doubt as to the achievement – people can under value achievements, reassessing your contribution on the basis that it can’t be as hard as it first looked. At its most extreme, people may not notice at al because you deliver without the usual dramas.
  • doubt as to effort being concealed – if people do concede the difficulty, they can form a view that you are hiding the effort involved. For example assuming that like the duck gliding serenely there must have been a lot of paddling out of sight. When the activity is perceived to be discretionary, this assumed effort might also be regarded to be at the detriment of your core responsibilities.
Four simple steps help everyone gain more accurate recognition for their efforts and continue to build the trust and collaboration that is a platform for future success:
  • Describe your sweet spot: Knowing where you best deliver and being able to describe the conditions that make you highly productive to others helps them assess you and your contributions. Authentic sharing of purpose and strengths builds support and connection. It also helps you get more of the work that you do best.
  • Collaborate– engage other key stakeholder in the process and the work so that they can contribute and inform themselves on your intent and approaches. Collaboration helps make you a magnet for the work that you do best.
  • Work out loud – narrate your efforts as they occur so that a broader community can learn and contribute. Sharing the journey with others allows them to better understand and engage with your work.
  • Promote the value of your achievements – don’t just promote your work. Promote its value. External benchmarks, external recognition, the contribution to execution of strategy are all important in addressing doubts.
Sprezzatura can be disarming. Make sure it is not a challenge to your future productivity.