Dick Smythe was educated at Bolton School, graduated in pure mathematics and statistics at St Andrews University and then took a masters in Operations Research at Birmingham University • He became a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, Operational Research Society, Institute of Management Services and the Institute of Physical Distribution Management • His career started with a scholarship from Dorman Long Steel on Teesside, working shifts on blast furnaces and steel mills before graduating and, afterwards, in their OR department – he subsequently moved to London to join the world-famous BISRA OR department, then part of British Steel, and was involved in their corporate planning and cost reduction programmes • During these earlier years, he became an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, serving on their coastal minesweepers, and a wing forward for Rosslyn Park RFC (n'th XV), playing mostly for their famed après-rugby • He was then recruited by Europe's leading consultancy of the day, PA Consulting Group, and went on to set up and grow their Productivity Services Division into a significant part of the business, becoming a PA director and sitting on their UK management consultancy board - whilst there, he led a joint study with the CBI into UK productivity, and presented the results on TV, radio and to the national press with Director General Sir John Banham - The Times leader commented: "It is refreshing to come across something that has its feet firmly planted on the ground" • Since then, he has mixed productivity consultancy work with playing the property and stock markets, skippering his own boat in the Fastnet and many other ocean yacht races and keeping his golf handicap down to single figures • He is happily married, has two sons and two grandchildren to date, and lives either by the Solent or at Marble Arch in London

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Author's posts

Current NHS productivity measurement

The University of York’s Centre for Health Economics confidently announced that, despite the government making drastic cuts: “Hard working NHS staff are providing 16.5% more care per £ than they did 10 years before whilst national productivity has only grown by 6.7% over the same period In particular, they claim that: NHS outputs have continuously …

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Is everything preordained?

According to ‘The Science of Fate’ by Cambridge scientist Hannah Critchlow, your future may be more predictable than you think Everything about you is fated, from your love or hate of garlic, your academic success, your expanding waistline or the cancer that will eventually kill you Everything is determined by your genes and environment If …

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Leonardo paints knowledge path

According to The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene, knowledge in the mid-fifteenth century had hardened into rigid compartments viz: Philosophy and scholasticism The Arts Science The Occult – dark knowledge Leonardo da Vinci was then a youth, the illegitimate son of a notary so lacking the usual formal education – hence his …

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Absolute returns

So much capital is misallocated these days, and that continues to drive down trend GDP growth – the term misallocated capital is used by economists to describe capital that is deployed without having any impact on productivity – it’s capital that is deployed unproductively Niels Jensen of Absolute Return Partners wrote about The Productivity Conundrum …

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AI increases productivity

By 2021, artificial intelligence (AI) will allow the rate of innovation of Filipino companies to increase by 1.7 times, and nearly double employee productivity gains in the Philippines, according to a study titled Future Ready Business: Assessing Asia Pacific’s Growth Potential Through AI The study made by Microsoft and IDC (International Data Corp.) surveyed 109 …

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New technology needs new models

According to the WEF – World Economic Forum – manufacturing executives today are confronted with an enormous variety of promising new technologies, ranging from artificial intelligence to connected machinery to 3D printing, all of them offering some combination of cost savings, quality improvements and increased flexibility They then say it’s tempting to think that a …

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Puzzle – What puzzle?

“The Miracle Years Are Over – get used to It” So announced Ruchir Sharma, a contributing opinion writer for the NEW YORK TIMES, in a well-argued article reprinted with only minor tweaks below Across the world, economists have had to downgrade growth forecasts – but it’s not as bad as it sounds Last year (2018) …

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Gallup’s ‘most profound’ finding

The Wall Street Journal suggested there could be a single fix for many of the big problems that companies experience – hiring better middle managers They based this on a Gallup study that found a company’s productivity depended on the quality of these crucial leaders – managers don’t just influence results, they explain a full …

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Productive recidivists

Over 70% of offenders re-offend within one year! Why is this? Most prisoners are locked up for most of the day and not treated well by the officers which surely makes them worse than they were at the start, not better – in these Universities of Crime, they learn to despise authority, not learn a …

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Catching the right fish

With globalisation, all organisations can fish for new recruits in the one big pond But the most successful anglers are they who hire on merit, not in their own image, according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at Columbia University in his book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders An article …

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Customer measures needed

Once, supply of most goods and services people wanted to buy was limited – suppliers thus had the whip-hand – for example, Ford could offer their ‘Model T’ cars using the strap line “any colour so long as it’s black” Those days are long gone Mid 20’th century and on, competition between suppliers started to …

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Customers don’t measure up

Supplier organisations have two sorts of customers – external and internal: External customers pay for the goods or services private or public sector organisations offer them – it’s their money alone which keeps businesses in business and public services alive, and pays every employee and shareholders dividends – they decide whether or not to buy …

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Waste murders productivity

Whilst few managers measure productivity well, even fewer measure their waste of outputs and costly inputs Waste arises both internally and externally: Internal waste = When things are not done RFT (Right First Time) and work is rejected or has to be reworked External waste = When things are delivered to customers either not as …

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Current productivity fog

All managers need to get the most out of all costly input resources they employ: In the private sector, to beat their competition in meeting customers’ needs whilst minimising unit costs and maximising sales and profit margins In the public sector, to optimise the number and quality of services on offer However, most managers do …

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NHS targets have had their day

Lord Prior of Brampton is reported by The Times as saying: “NHS staff suffer from learned helplessness in a dysfunctional system” So what prompted this mystifying statement? A&E units are currently reporting their worst numbers of patients waiting longer than four hours, many on trolleys as no beds were available – the NHS Confederation of …

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Zipf’s Law

Zipf’s law is a mysterious, empirical law – it’s also linked to Pareto’s rule: It suggests limits on the size of companies and their share of markets According to Annalee Newitz, the editor of i09, in 1949 linguist George Zipf noticed that people used a very small number of words most of the time – …

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Wealth gains and distribution

US Fed Chairman Jerome Powell believes our two greatest challenges for the next decade are ‘the widening wealth gap and sluggish productivity’ But Lawrence Fuller, in an article for Seeking Alpha, claims the Fed’s attempts to create a wealth effect by inflating the value of financial assets has mostly benefited the top 10%, and even …

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4 day weeks to boost productivity

A new report by Autonomy – a thinktank focusing on the future of work – argues that a shorter working week should be a central pillar of our economic future. They say calls for a shorter working week have gathered pace in recent years, with the TUC, the Green party, large and small unions and now the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, joining …

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Productivity tops Brexit

An article by Peter Barker, Gui Tao and Xinhua – www.xinhuanet.com Improving productivity, instead of the Brexit issue, is the primary task facing the British economy at the moment, says renowned British economist Jim O’Neill “The UK being in or out of the EU (European Union) is not the most important thing facing our economic …

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Clusters need roads

An article by Maria Machancoses,  a director at Midlands Connectvestment, is fully reproduced below For centuries, good roads have influenced the way we live, work and trade As a nation that makes over 80% of journeys by road, and whose population is forecast to grow to 75m by 2050, investing in our ageing infrastructure is rightly at the top of the agenda. Rather than …

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Current knowledge levels

Many, perhaps most, developed nation companies are brainwork companies nowadays i.e. at least 33% of their employees have degrees or equivalent Clearly, all top jobs require best brains/ problem solvers – there’s little routine work for them – it’s their ideas, decisions, tactics and plans, actions and people skills that are needed most But the …

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Knowledge measures needed

Management guru Peter Drucker once said: “In the knowledge economy, everyone is a volunteer, but we have trained our managers to manage conscripts” – he might have added that managers act this way because they lack the measures and understanding needed to maximise the knowledge productivity of their teams It’s another productivity gap afflicting most …

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Aggregation hides info needed

Current measures of productivity become less and less useful the higher the level they go: Aggregation increasingly blurs the performance picture Apples get mixed with pears Specific inputs used for specific outputs and outcomes get lost in the mix At national level, this aggregation problem is at its worst, compounded by much output and most …

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UK productivity gap half-explained?

According to Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor of The Times, Britain’s dismal productivity gap with much of the developed world is due not only to lack of investment, bad management and low interest rates as previously thought Another significant causal factor has been found The UK’s ONS – Office for National Statistics – asked the Paris-based OECD …

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Work hard or work well?

Many say the secret for a good life is ‘work hard and play hard’ Leila Hock, in an article for Career Contessa, disagrees – ‘work hard’ apparently “makes my eyes roll a little” She believes we’ve become too preoccupied with “the grind” and it’s actually bringing us down – “It has a negative effect on …

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All nations need a National Productivity Centre

An article by Lalin Fernandopulle in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer, headed ‘Productivity policy vital for economic growth’, promotes the worth of all nations having a National Productivity Organisation  Sri Lanka is the only APO (Asian Productivity Organisation) member country which does not have an NPO (National Productivity Organisation). Company director Sunil Wijesinghe says: “Setting up a …

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UK industrial strategy

The UK government’s ‘Industrial Strategy’ for making the UK more competitive and the economy better-balanced essentially involves increasing R&D investment and workers’ skills It considers five areas for productivity improvement – Ideas, People, Infrastructure, Places and Business environment – and recognises four grand challenges: Artificial intelligence and machine learning Clean growth Future mobility Ageing society …

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Financial cardinals needed

Of the many financial measures available, only three qualify as financial cardinals – the ones whose alarm bells must ring to prompt action in good time They are total revenue, total cost and profitability They’re ‘catch-all’ measures covering all outputs, outcomes and inputs: Total revenue covers net outputs sold and outcomes the customers took into …

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Financial metrics are not enough

How do you know if an organisation has performed well?   If it’s a private company, financial results will reflect customers’ valuations of what they were offered and translate them into revenue and profits   If it’s a public sector unit, the tax-paying public will judge quality and service levels received – actual costs are …

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Most plans go unseen or unused

The following is an extract from ‘Productivity Knowhow’ A good corporate plan is a punchy summary of where an organisation aims to be in five years’ time and, broadly, how it is to get there   Essentially, the plan should define the organisation’s ‘business model’ – how it will be better than its rivals and …

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The evolution and future of productivity

The Universe is some 15 billion years old, apparently – ‘Big Bang’ followed, some 10 billion years later, spawning Planet Earth – then, over the last 4.5 billion years, life appeared on Earth and a wide variety of species, both flora and fauna, eventually emerged At first, resources needed for their survival – food or sunlight, say …

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Excess regulations and legacy systems solve productivity puzzle?

Brian Caplen, editor of The Banker, says the challenges banks face with regulation and legacy IT systems hold lessons for the wider economy He points out that ‘great minds have been pondering the productivity puzzle – so why, in a time of rapid technological change, is productivity stagnant in many advanced economies?’ The UK has particular …

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Deaf ears encore une fois

Barnes Wallis, the English scientist of ‘bouncing bomb’ fame, once said: “There is a natural opposition among men to anything they have not thought of themselves” He might better have said ‘western men’ – ‘eastern men’ can be ‘all ears’ Once upon a time, just after WW2, three eminent American statisticians tried to convince US …

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What kills change?

Ken Blanchard, of ‘One Minute Manager’ fame, recently focused on why implementing change stumbles so much He listed 13 pitfalls that stop major change in its tracks without attaching relative weightings to each one so you are left to decide your own: Culture = The predominant attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of the organisation: The …

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Productivity improvement must involve all employees

The following are extracts from an article in the Huffingtom Post by Mike Clancy, General secretary of Prospect – one must involve all employees, all the time, for effective productivity improvement The UK is not productive enough and we do not share wealth widely enough: Unemployment may be historically low but public satisfaction with the economy …

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The perfect working environment?

According to an article by Michael Odell in The Times, Basecamp is a US software/ tech company that supposedly runs without the scourge of 80 hour weeks, unrealistic deadlines, weekend emails and meetings Two American guys, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, run Basecamp – they’re also authors of a new book called It Doesn’t have …

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Robots at Work

The Financial Times reported on a study “Robots at Work,” written by Georg Graetz, a researcher at the Department of Economics, Uppsala University, and Guy Michaels, London School of Economics, which examines the impact of industrial robots on jobs, productivity and growth. Industrial robots are programmable and are widely used for assembly, packaging, inspection and agricultural harvesting. In …

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Immigration pluses and minuses

The USA really should try to attract more immigrant entrepreneurs, according to Claude Barfield of the US National Venture Capital Association and Entrepreneur.com: 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants, and more than half of the nation’s billion-dollar startups have an immigrant co-founder According to the National Science Foundation, only 17% of US bachelor …

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National distribution of wealth

An interesting, sometimes complex (at least to me), article by Laurie Macfarlane for www.opendemocracy.net follows – it amply demonstrates that totting up any figure for national wealth is not straightforward According to a new OECD working paper, Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Net wealth is estimated to stand at around $500,000 …

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UK manufacturing to become ‘smarter’

The UK magazine Drives & Controls has just reported that a group of UK manufacturing business leaders and academics have joined forces with the government to create the Made Smarter Commission (MSC) which aims to make UK manufacturing “smarter”. The inaugural meeting of the commission was chaired by Siemens CEO Professor Juergen Maier and Business Secretary …

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A short history of productivity improvement

Lydia Dishman wrote an article for Fast Company outlining steps taken over time to improve productivity – it’s not comprehensive but interesting nevertheless According to her, there’s no definitive source for the start of productivity improvement efforts but there are historical mentions of it in Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776). Smith contended that there were …

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A famous fire that changed workers’ rights

The following are extracts from a publication by the AFL-CIO, America’s Unions On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York Firefighters arrived at the scene, but their ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the upper floors of the 10-story building. Trapped inside …

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Target setting

Targets are needed to bring meaning to any performance measure They enable one to quantify scope for improvement, performance gaps to be closed and urgency for change Told your ‘bad’ cholesterol level is 8.6 and most would ask ‘so what?’ – told that good health requires the level to be below 5 and a course …

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Waste leaves productivity dead in the water

 A post by author Charles Hugh Smith hits the nail on the head about the ‘productivity puzzle’ – rising waste in all sectors, hardly mentioned by the experts, is mostly to blame Productivity in the U.S. has been declining since the early 2000s. This trend mystifies economists, as the tremendous investments in software, robotics, networks and mobile …

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Misleading research metrics

In an article entitled ‘Capitalism is ruining science’, Meagan Day (for www.jacobinmag.com) points out that universities existed before capitalism and pursued not profit but truth and knowledge But no longer The modern university has become increasingly subservient to the imperatives of capitalism i.e. competition, profit maximisation and increasing labour productivity In academia, this manifests itself as …

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US views on employee performance measures

A sample of US managers’ views was recently published on performance measures they use In essence, they said: ‘App overload’ constantly disrupts work flows – they’re meant to streamline productivity and communications but do the opposite – most employees want a single platform for phone calls, chats, email and team messaging – so get rid …

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Forget productivity growth in future?

The following are notes jotted down whilst reading a lecture (40 x A4 pages long) given by Adair Turner, Chair of INET (Institute for New Economic Thinking) in Washington DC in 2018 ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Summary: The lecture covers the possible long term impact of rapid technological progress – i.e. work automation and AI – on the nature of …

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Effective change management

The following is a punchy article by journalist Simon Caulkin describing the best way, by far, to improve customer service whilst minimising costs – it’s counter-intuitive, and ignored by big consultancies – however, it works well, and puts their approaches to shame Google ‘change management’ and you get half a billion hits. ‘Change management models’ …

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Invest more to raise productivity

An article by John Mills, Chairman of the eponymous JM Ltd, author of economics books and major Labour party donor, claims that UK productivity is ‘so low’ partly because we spend a far lower proportion of our national income (17%) on capital investment (aka capex) than the 26% world average – and woefully less than China’s …

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The skills delusion

Adair Turner, Chairman of INET (Institute for New Economic Thinking) and one-time Chairman of the UK’s FSA (Financial Services Authority) wrote a weighty article a year or so ago on the need for more investment in our human stock We cannot better his choice of words so, below, reproduce much of his article verbatim It …

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