“Productivity never comes easy, but it can come a lot faster”

Greg Satell in Forbes

The true impact of what Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein were discussing in the early 20the century - a revolutionary understanding of physics - wouldn’t be clear till a half century later, writes US business consultant Greg Satell in a recent Forbes' article. The Bohr-Einstein story encapsulates just how convoluted the path to productivity often is. "Discoveries of mysterious phenomena must be engineered into innovative solutions, a process that can take decades. Then those solutions must be adopted by industry, which can take decades more. Clearly, we need to better connect the realms of discovery, innovation and transformation" with the process of transformation being "every bit as challenging and important as the discovery and innovation that precede it."

Economists have long been baffled by productivity growth, which rises and falls without any discernable rhyme or reason. Yet when you look at the long and convoluted path productivity gains have to take - often spanning many different people over a number of decades - you can see why.

Discoveries lie in obscure journals for years - or even decades - before they are engineered into practical solutions. It can then take decades more for those solutions to be adopted widely. People cling to old models not only out of habit and convenience, but also because they need to work with others who employ those same models. Systemwide change doesn’t come easy.

Yet we can do better. Some organizations, like IBM, integrate all three components - discovery, innovation and transformation - within one organization. Lynda Chin at the UT Hospital System and MD Anderson is trying to use technology to connect stakeholders in order to improve medical care. President Obama has created an advanced manufacturing initiative that connects industry and academia.

The message? We use computers and the internet since many years, but we are just beginning to transform our enterprises to make full use of information technologies’ productive potentials. When we better connect discovery, innovation and transformation productivity - which is never easy - can come a lot faster.

In a similar vein Roy Smythe writing about Health Care's Current "Productivity Paradox" (Forbes, 17 July 2015) describes "two previous slowdowns in productivity that were not anticipated, and caused great consternation - the adoption of electricity and the computer. The issues at hand with both were the protracted time it took to diffuse the technology, the problem of trying to utilize the new technology alongside the pre-existing technology, and the misconception that the new technology should be used in the same context as the older one."

Satell, Greg (2015) - The Long And Twisted Path To Productivity. Forbes, 25 July.

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