Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Aug 2018

Productivity As Identity

Shifting modes of transportation invites a revisit into what productivity looks like. When one adds a commute, they add contemplative time. If they are the driver, there’s less time to spend in connected-thought, yet more time can be spent in and out of deep thought. If they instead add a physically exerting style of commute, doing work is more the space of contemplate and solving than of ticking off task boxes or replies. To add a more passive method invites the ability to reply, to tick the boxes, and even to segment the moment into aspects of deep thought. What does productivity look like if it is all of these modes interdependently being given place and priority?

Within this exploration of digital humanism, productivity has been given an inspector’s gaze. When the work is connected and digital, there’s some bending of the rules which have normally governed workspace. Perhaps becuase we realize that connecting dots needs is less about space and more about relationship. Perhaps productivity is more or an assumed identity than it is a destination. And therefore, we take the routes towards becoming productive when opportunity enables us to do so with the least amount of friction.

Tools and techniques shape and inform this character called productivity. Writing in an office, cafe, or classroom seems different, but the identity taken on is the same. Does it matter that the structures which compensate productivity recognize that space for its identity to be held onto? Yes. And there’s the challenge. Information-based fields aim to unattach the location from the activity — grant the worker agency to work. While other fields reshape themselves to the realities of the less context-imposed spheres around them. Does it matter that Slack makes us always available? Does it matter that the cafe’s wifi blocks Slack? Where does the work matter?

If thinking through these questions provokes more questions, it likely because when we talk about productivity as identity, we are talking about a time-value replacement which isn’t easy to explain, yet, readily able to be heard:

In the social act model, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual that evokes a response from someone else. The meaning of the gesture can only be known from the response, not from the words. There is no deterministic causality, no transmission from the gesture to the response. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning of the gesture is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning of the gesture is contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one social act from which meaning emerges.

Esko Kilpi and others have long drove into the context that work is changing. Yet, what they and others seem to allude to, but not outright say, is that so many derive identity from their inputs, that they define life only by them. If the work and workspace begin to change, then that identity isn’t just challenged, but its altered. In another article, Kilpi lays out 10 principles of digital work, and in doing so offers the ingredients for a different identity than the one which has defined productivity/work for the past 3-5 generations. Creating value is an instigating work, not a digging work. Productivity is therefore not what you do, but an aspect of whom you are. To this, augmentation by connected devices and services takes on another, far more invasive premise: evolution.