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Brain Circuits

How productive are you, honestly?

IbyIMD+ Published 4 April 2022 in Brain Circuits • 2 min read

This exercise helps you shorten your to do-list to become more productive. The math has already been done for you.

Ask yourself the following three questions:

  • Are you prioritizing? (Hopefully, yes)
  • Are you making space for the essentials? (You should be)
  • Is your main concern sticking to the schedule? (It shouldn’t be)

We often feel the need to go full pelt at the start of the year, full of ideas and energy, in the name of feeling productive. But consider reshaping your concept of high productivity around the nature of your high-leverage activities:

Andy Grove, the legendary former chief executive and chairman of Intel, described the productivity (“output”) of a manager as “A manager’s output = the output of her organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under her influence”.

Let’s imagine you are seeking to increase the output of your own organization (part one of the equation). You could try to speed up your own work, but that’s likely to lead to burnout. Option 2 would be to increase your managerial leverage. So how would that look?

  1. Many people would be affected by your presence and/or
  2. A single person’s behavior would have changed over time by one brief encounter with you.

The above might come about thanks to training – “one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform,” in Grove’s yes.

Grove was an engineer. He made Intel deliver microprocessors with doubling computing power every eighteen months. Like clockwork.

When you invest time in training your own people, you get to delegate more with trust. But don’t think that’s you being unproductive; it is in fact another way for you to further increase your leverage.

Now for part two of the equation: “How can I increase the output of neighboring organizations?” Grove recommends you supply them with a unique key piece of knowledge or information. A good example would be a data-driven suggestion – an emerging trend of what works and what doesn’t. This stops predictions without seeing the full picture.

Put another way, a summary report given can quickly change the day-to-day practice of employees. That’s leverage.

Further Reading: High Output Management, by Andrew S Grove


Howard Yu - IMD Professor

Howard H. Yu

LEGO® Chair Professor of Management and Innovation at IMD

Howard Yu, hailing from Hong Kong, holds the title of LEGO® Professor of Management and Innovation at IMD. He leads the Center for Future Readiness, founded in 2020 with support from the LEGO Brand Group, to guide companies through strategic transformation. Recognized globally for his expertise, he was honored in 2023 with the Thinkers50 Strategy Award, recognizing his substantial contributions to management strategy and future readiness. At IMD, Howard directs the Strategy for Future Readiness and Business Growth Strategies programs.


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