Impact is Hot, Productivity is Not

by James La Trobe-Bateman on April 10, 2019
Impact is not what you do, rather the effect it has on others and what they do
Impact ripples

Let’s face it: ‘productivity’ is a boring word.

I’m also wondering if it is even the ‘right’ word today.

You mostly hear about it as ‘personal productivity’, which tends to be about time management. You might also see in government reports about ‘Productivity Trends’, where one thing, e.g. output, is divided by another ‘input’.  Or perhaps expressed as ‘Revenue per Employee’ in a corporate context.

There seems to be a declining interest in the word.

Isn’t this odd?

My experience in the Productivity Improvement business led me to believe that it is the central measure for increasing the wealth of the world.

So where am I wrong?

Here’s one observation. Productivity is output over input: something DIVIDED. 

What if we looked for an idea that expresses MULTIPLICATION?  We live in an abundant world, where things get better and better all the time (and they do – if you don’t believe it, take a look at some of Hans Rosling’s analysis of world data).  Things multiply, they do not have to be divided.  Shared, probably, but not divided.  If I invent software that works for the whole world, I can share it all, not carve it up into pieces..

So, how about ‘Impact’?

It’s not so much the efficiency with which you do something.  It’s more about the ripples that your actions have. For example, if you cook a meal for your family, it will immediately benefit them…and nobody else.  If you cook a meal, record the recipe and publish a book of recipes, then you will have impacted many more people.  Not just once, but over and over.  That task of cooking is the same, but its impact is different depending on what you do with it. You can even be inefficient at cooking, not very ‘productive’, but still create a larger impact.

So this is not about one complicated thing divided by another complicated thing.  It’s to do with how much our efforts are multiplied…not divided.

Feels much better to me. 

So what impact are you having?

James La Trobe-Bateman

Solar Panels for Senegal Schoolchildren

by James La Trobe-Bateman on January 1, 2020
Solar panels for Senegal schools

A story about a small act that has a big impact on Senegal school learning.

In our events, emails and social media posts, we encourage you to increase your Impact on the world. 2020 – a new year and a new decade is starting. Lorrie & I have resolved to increase our positive IMPACT and Ripples in the world as well as encouragement to you and your IMPACT-ology journey.


We do this because… when you help others… you help yourself.


If you were at our October 2019 IMPACT-ology event in Port Huron-Michigan USA, you might remember we collectively agreed that $1 spent in the community has more impact on well-being than $1 spent anywhere else.


Here is an Amazing local IMPACT-ology story of how that is working: Tiny Solar Panels for Senegal Schoolchildren Immediately Improve Their Learning.


There is an organization on our Spanish island in the Atlantic ocean 60 miles off the coast of Sahara Desert and Africa that provides a summer school here for young people from Senegal to learn life skills to take back to their villages and improve their daily lives. Senegal is a small sub-saharan west African country not far (as the crow flies) from us. In their villages, they don’t have electricity in their homes or schools. That means no light after dark. This limits how much homework the children can do.


So the organization on our island donated 500 solar panel kits and are teaching the teachers and students how to assemble and install them in their homes (and schools). These solar kits are very small, enough to light up 4 LED bulbs. Though small, it is enough to provide light for students to complete their homework at home.

Guess what happened?!


Their teachers now report an immediate measurable jump in the rate of learning! 


If I gave YOU those little solar panel kits, I doubt it would have much impact on your life. Giving them to these Senegal children, and teaching them how to assemble and install themselves, has made a massive, immediate, positive IMPACT on their lives now and into their future.


QUESTION: What will your ripples be into the new year and decade of 2020… and beyond?


P.S.. Lorrie also wants to know.. With so many incredible things to do every day in this amazing world (many with very simple solutions just waiting for your help to make them happen)… What is Your Age Goal now..?

Credit To The People On The Spot After a Hurricane

by James La Trobe-Bateman on August 1, 2019
Hurricane damage

In September 2017 hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Homes lost roofs.  A US newspaper report said:

“…Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island – and the world. […] a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life – gasoline, cash, food, water – began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months. For those most vulnerable, far too long…”

A couple of weeks later I had a call from a client.  They had a factory for some of their medical devices in Puerto Rico.  The factory itself was fine: it had been built to withstand hurricanes, it had hurricane shutters, it had backup generators.

The call was to ask for help with their supply chain.   This factory supplies all regions of the world.  They had factories in other parts of the world that could do some if not all of the work. It was vital for the Puerto Rico factory to be seen to be productive as soon as possible.  Or there would have been a threat of permanent closure.

Of course, that was not the first thing on the minds of the staff.  They lived in the community around the factory.  Many of them suffered severe damage to their homes, not to mention those of their families and friends.  They all had life or death things on their minds that did not include making medical devices or keeping their jobs.

So what was the best I could do?  Work out where everything in the world was, who needed what where and setting priorities for the PR plant.  So that became my job. Meanwhile, the company could send its corporate jet down from New Jersey with essential supplies.  Despite this, the Puerto Ricans who worked at that factory were more or less on their own to get themselves into a state where they could think about work again.

From a distance it is very hard to imagine the many actions and interactions going on in that community to get themselves to focus on work again.  There must have been a powerful sense of co-operation, because it was only 2 months before the factory was turning out product again. Everyone could breathe a sigh of relief.  And I admired the people of the island even more.

Who needed who most in this situation?

I say that the corporation really had to rely on the community around their factory to get their act together.  The corporation was pretty powerless otherwise. Compare this with another factory that we knew about in the Dominican Republic. Also put out of action by the hurricane.  It took them more than a year to restore production.

Is the US the Best Pinball Machine?

by James La Trobe-Bateman on July 21, 2019

I’ve got an idea crashing around in my head like a pinball machine. Lighting up unconscious thoughts, increasing awareness and developing a life of its own.

There’s really two parts to a pinball game.

There’s the ball with the way the player interacts.

Then, there’s the set up of bumpers and lights and scoring that is built into it. Much of what happens is automatic, out of your control. How is this designed? Did the designers have a masterplan to make it all more fun and potentially score higher scores?

If life is like this, how would you design it?

Suppose you have a great idea that you want to launch into the world. How do you launch it? Where do you launch it?  You want a network or a society or a system that will respond the way a pinball machine does.  Can you just find one?  Or do you have to create one? If so, how do you create one that will have create the largest ‘score’.

I mean ‘Impact’.  It’s impact that you want.

Well, there are some answers.  For example, if you want to make a success of publishing a book, you need to build a ‘platform’ of followers who can seed its appeal.  Similarly if you want to launch a business online, you need to cultivate a list of followers.  You cultivate both the ‘platform’ and the list separately from selling something.

Beyond that, I am curious about some naturally occurring pinball machines.  Take active communities.  Or should I say, interactive communities.  Communities where there are a lot of interactions fed by multiple ideas for improvements and likely funded by the wealthier of the people in it.  The communities that are better organized this way and going to produce a greater impact from ideas sprung into them (like a pinball).

USA Flag as a Map

I’m going one step further with this argument. It has long puzzled me that the ‘USA is #1 in the world’.  And yet it does not have the best roads, it does not have the best education, it does not have the highest purchasing power per person, it does not have the longest life expectancy and it does not have happiest people.  And yet I find myself better able to ‘do well’ in the US than anywhere else. 

How come?

Our business has a greater ‘Impact’ in the US than anywhere else. There’s something about the set up that means ideas ping around and make a higher score.  It’s a better pinball machine.

Why Is Catbert the Evil HR Director?

by James La Trobe-Bateman on July 18, 2019

Why do we have so much difficulty believing in a huggable people person running Human Resources? 

Scott Adams’ Dilbert character Catbert is totally believable as the ‘Evil HR Director’. Robert Townsend wrote in his book ‘Up The Organization’ that you should fire the Personnel Department and at worst have a 1 person People department.  Instead, since 1970, the Personnel Department has morphed into Human Resources.  Not only that, but the boss of that department is seen as evil. The world has gone backwards.

Let’s try some ‘whys’.

Why do you need an HR director? To make sure you have the quality and quantity of employees you need, plus to administer all the regulations around employment.

Why are there regulations around employment? Because employers can’t be trusted to treat their employees fairly.

Why can’t the employer be trusted? Because their job is to maximize profits for the shareholders, not for the employees.  So they will tend to cut corners if they can get away with it.

Why does management think of shareholders first and employees second? Because that is their main responsibility.

Why do shareholders think they should have priority? Because that is the way the system is set up.

…and you can go on.

Let’s stop there with the thought that the ‘system’ is the problem.  Not Catbert.

The system needs to change. 

It’s tough changing systems. Nonetheless, some enlightened bosses take a different view.  Richard Branson famously said that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.  Since your revenue depends on customers, taking care of your employees will take care of revenues and hence the shareholders.

But this is only a part solution.

We are talking about a change to the system.  So, we must talk about the ‘system’ that the corporation exists within.

Part of that system is the community around the corporation’s physical presence.

Henry Mintzberg goes deeper. We should put the corporation in the context of the society in which it exists.  This is because it draws ‘resource’ from that environment and has an ‘impact’ on the community around them.  It is not ‘fair’ to consider the corporation in isolation.  In particular, he advocates for rebalancing in favor of the ‘Plural Society’: the part that is not Private and not Public. Meanwhile, the world seems to be going backwards when it comes to the way corporations are run. 

Isn’t time to turn the tide?

Up The Organization

by James La Trobe-Bateman on June 21, 2019

When I was about 20, I was at Guernsey airport waiting for a flight to England to resume studies at Cambridge University.  A small paperback book on the twirly book rack caught my eye. It was called “Up The Organization” and written by Robert Townsend who had been the CEO of Avis when the “We’re Second, We Try Harder” slogan started. It describes ways to lead a corporation to make it more fun for the people who work there.  I bought it.

Up The Organization by Robert Townsend

Here’s what’s odd about this. Apart from some vacation jobs with a couple of large companies, I had no real experience of the corporate world.  I certainly didn’t have any deep-rooted sense that anything was ‘wrong’ with them.  Despite this I bought a book with the theme of improving organizations.  More specifically, “a way to humanize business” as it says on the dust cover.  Strange to be attracted to something so outside my experience.  And yet I read it cover to cover and re-read it.  It seemed to resonate to an inner sense of purpose that I was unaware of.

I went on to complete my studies and became an engineer.  Building things, not organizations. Not distracted at all by any goings-on at head office. “Up the Organization” stayed on the bookshelf.

Nevertheless, decades later, the seed germinated. And here I am with this phrase as the underlying purpose for our consultancy: to make organizations more productive whilst making them more fit for human habitation.

Robert Townsend wrote his book in 1970.  Sadly, everything he says in it is truer now than then.  It’s time we did something about it.

Big Changes Can Happen Overnight

by James La Trobe-Bateman on May 29, 2019

Do you worry that the world needs some big changes, fast (like action on global warming)? It seems to be a big challenge to get everyone to move overnight.

When you think about it, there really are some changes that affect everyone that happen really fast, overnight even.  Here’s an example.

On February 15th, 1971 the UK switched from a pounds, shillings and pence money system to a pounds and pence system.  Those ‘12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound’ manipulations were an unnecessary complication for the computerization of banks. Other countries had long before decimalized. The merits of doing so were proven and obvious. Why not the UK?  And so the UK government decided to change. 

And we all did. Without much of a fight.

So what was it like to live through it?

Decimal conversion
First Bank Statement

I had just left home to start my first job and opened a bank account to look after the money.  You can see my first bank statement.  I also needed somewhere to stay and boarded with Mrs Gould. You can see that I was paying her 6 pounds 2 shillings and 6 pence for my board and lodgings. Then came decimalization.  After that, I was paying 6 pounds 13 pence or was it 6 pounds 12 pence?  2 shillings and sixpence converted to 12 ½ new pence. But, you couldn’t write a cheque for a ½ penny, so it had to be one or the other.  The ‘official’ conversion was 12.

This was about the biggest ‘grief’ that the change caused.  “How can 2 shillings and 4 pence, 2 shillings and 5 pence and 2 shillings and 6 pence all convert to 12 new pence?” she asked.  A valid question but ultimately not too difficult to understand.

It looks like I ended up paying her 6 pounds and 12 pence per week.  I guess over the 6 months I stayed there, she was short-changed 26 x ½ = 13 pence.  I’m sorry, Mrs Gould!

Ideas as Pinball Machines

by James La Trobe-Bateman on May 20, 2019
pinball impact

Funny how games are often a mirror of life in some way.

I’ve been thinking about the arcade game where you launch a ball up. It hits bumpers and other gadgets that bounce it around, each bounce increasing your score.  Then the ball drops towards the flippers.  Now it’s your chance to hit the ball back up and it bounces around again.  Until, the ball drops between the flippers and there’s no saving it. End of game. Unless you scored enough to get a replay.

Think of the ball as an idea, or your contribution to the world. What does it impact? How valuable is that impact? What other impacts happen as a result of that first impact?  How valuable are they? Where does the idea come back to you so that you can put it back into play?  And have further impact?

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to work at this and become a ‘Pinball Wizard’?

We had one of these games in my college. I watched people who were good at playing it.  They seemed to get engrossed.  They would get hold of the whole machine and shake and nudge at all the right moments to boost their score.  There was no apparent logic to it, they just ‘felt’ their way to do the best thing. Do they really “play by intuition” as The Who famously sang? Totally in tune with the action and grooving with it.

It all starts with the first pull on the pinball.  The power of that first burst Is important, but not as important as what follows.  And you have no way of predicting what is going to happen. You might score nothing: so that idea is a dud. 

Or, you might have a small idea that you stay with, follow wherever it goes, watch it morph along the way…and score a record score.

Why Is Change Sometimes So Easy?

by James La Trobe-Bateman on May 17, 2019
Difficult change

We expend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to help people to change their minds. It seems so difficult.

Let’s look at the ‘mountain’ from the other side. How is it that some changes happen so easily, with just about everybody?

Think about Smartphones. In only a decade from the first iPhone the majority of people own one. More than that, those people have changed a whole range of habits: we text more than we call, we look at our phone for information instead our computer or even the local library, we spend our time at the dinner table looking at the screen instead of talking to those next to us. Not all the new habits are necessarily good, but there is no doubt we changed them.

And it wasn’t a struggle, like giving up smoking or kicking some other ‘bad habit’.

You bought the Smartphone because you wanted to make phone calls and because you wanted to be able to communicate the same way as your friends. You ended up texting more and watching YouTube videos. And there’s another thing: you are probably paying more for your phone than you used to pay for a landline. But you changed anyway.

There’s another reason you bought the Smartphone. All your friends and family were buying them. They were the latest cool gadget.

So if it was so easy for us with the Smartphone, why can’t we find similar easy ways to make some other ‘difficult’ changes in life?


by James La Trobe-Bateman on May 8, 2019

Sometimes you have to read a book for just one insight.

The critics might be divided on whether it is a good book, but that one insight makes it gold in your eyes. I wouldn’t have read ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, but for a good friend who recommended it. Then a few weeks later my brother gave me his copy and so I read it.

This was the insight.

Harari says that Homo Sapiens lived for many millennia alongside Neanderthals without immediately dominating them. So why did Sapiens become dominant? There seemed to be a number of environmental reasons. But what finally did it, he says, was Sapiens’ ability to co-operate with groups of people they did not know personally. If your influence is only with those you know, you are limited to about 150 people. When you co-operate with more, then your influence is far greater and your impact is far greater.

Sapiens succeeded over the Neanderthals because of their ability to spread common thinking beyond the immediate group. When you think the same, you act the same and so behave as a much larger cohesive and more powerful force. Who is more likely to prevail: 10 groups of 150 people who look superior but don’t have much in common with each other, or…1500 people who look inferior but think, talk and act in unison? We all know that power.

So how is this relevant to corporate life?

Well, how about ‘Standards’? There are formal ones, like ISO 9001. Or unspoken conventions, like cars having a steering wheel, the right hand pedal being for the fuel, the left hand pedal being for the brake. Imagine a world, where Fords had tiller steering, GM had a side joystick and the accelerator was on the dashboard? There is no question that the market in cars would not be as healthy as it is. Transport those standards to other countries, then you can sell your cars there. Plus you can find suppliers who can make components that will work for you better and cheaper. Everyone involved wins.

Co-operation with people you don’t know makes everyone’s life better. The impact of your ideas is far greater. In the case of Home Sapiens, it has led to dominance over the World.

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