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

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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AI will automate tasks, not skills

Michael Hicks, Professor of Economics at Ball State University, USA, claims productivity growth, whether through automation, plant design or better-skilled workers, doesn’t kill jobs – it eliminates tasks: First, hard, dirty and dangerous ones – think agriculture and steel-making where output continues to grow in volume but now uses a small fraction of the labour …

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Run hospitals like Tesco stores

David Dalton is CEO of Salford Royal NHS foundation trust, the first to be rated as ‘outstanding’ by the CQC (Care Quality Commission) on two consecutive occasions, so his words carry considerable weight He has just posted an article in the Thunderer column of The Times which is a cause for alarm to many Why? …

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Protectionism ensures slower growth

Excerpts from an article in Forbes by Jeffrey Dorfman, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia. USA , follow Dorfman claims that tariffs help uncompetitive industries because: They put a penalty on imports in the form of a tax Domestic producers that would otherwise lose market share to imports are able to produce …

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NZ shows way for public sector productivity

The New Zealand Productivity Commission was asked by its Government to provide guidance and recommendations on measuring and improving productivity in public services, especially education, health, justice and social welfare which play an important role in promoting individual and community well-being The Commission interviewed multiple current and former senior state sector leaders, carried out case studies to …

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National knowledge Indices

Developed economies are now ‘knowledge economies’ Knowledge has become the most valued input resource on which national growth depends – it’s needed for such as: Entrepreneurship Innovation, R&D Product, process and software design That said, a World Bank report claims that most nations fail to realise the knowledge they have available to them and so the …

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Boeing seek at least 20% improvements, not 1-4%

Dennis Muilenberg is CEO of Boeing, the US’s leading aerospace and defence company, and the US’s biggest exporter – they employ 140,000 people in some 65 countries An article by J P Donlon says Muilenberg is ‘on a tear to find another gear to compete in an increasingly complex, global and interconnected world’ Why? Opportunity: Worldwide …

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ICT for processes – Pearls from Gates

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, suggested the following applications for ICT – Information and Communications Technology For knowledge work: Insist that communications flow through the organisation over e-mail so that you can act on news with reflex-speed Study sales data on-line to easily find patterns, share insights, understand overall trends and personalise service for individual …

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Hire better managers

Vipula Gandhi, a Managing Partner at Gallup, has joined in the productivity debate with a new No Recovery report seeking reasons for the growth of USA GDP per capita (a measure of prosperity) having slowed from highs of 3% in the 1960s to only 0.5% now He argues that: A lack of major technological or …

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Suspect forecasts

Despite numerous forecasting clangers in recent times, the UK’s OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) claims British productivity in the last decade has hardly grown at all and will remain sluggish over the next five years They had assumed, when advising the Chancellor, that it would return to trend after 2008 They have now decided to abandon …

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Cheap labour solves productivity puzzle?

Merryn Somerset Webb, editor of the magazine Moneyweek, claims to have solved the productivity puzzle afflicting the UK – actually, all other developed economies are suffering in much the same way  “It’s never ever seemed like much of a puzzle to us” she says, adding: “We’ve written many times over the last decade that, if you …

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UK – a hub with no spokes

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the BoE (Bank of England) and so one of the finest of finest economic thinkers, recently gave a speech about the UK’s productivity problem to the Academy of Social Sciences – clearly, we should treat his every word with great respect, or should we? The following is a precis of …

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NHS must suppress demand and cut waste

The UK’s NHS (National Health Service) is widely considered to be a national treasure – it’s also the biggest employer in Europe with around 1,500,000 staff: Healthcare services for all ailments are offered ‘free at the point of delivery’ (except such as dentistry, some prescriptions and eye tests ) to all UK citizens Poor families, …

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Sheffield’s answer to the puzzle

In 2015, the University of Sheffield showed Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, two photographs: One of the Orgreave coking plant that closed in 1990 – ‘a brown and broken edifice dissolving like a rust stain into a post-industrial landscape’ The other, taken a decade later, of a solitary gleaming building on the …

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Labour has a terrible productivity idea

According to an article for Bloomberg View by Ferdinando Giugliano, one-time member of the Financial Times editorial committee, the UK’s Labour Party has come up with a ‘terrible idea’ for sorting out the country’s current productivity problem John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, proposes giving the Bank of England (BoE) a yearly 3% productivity growth target to sit …

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UK SMEs waste £57 bn a year

NatWest has unveiled research, conducted by the Cebr (Centre for economic and business research) which reveals UK SMEs (defined as companies with 10 – 259 employees) could add up to £57 billion a year – more than the cost of Brexit – to the UK economy if they were as productive as SMEs in Germany …

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Help for SMEs to get practical

Under the above heading, Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial & private banking at NatWest wrote the following article which all SMEs would do well to consider As we gear up for Brexit, the UK’s flagging productivity performance is continually in the fore of media headlines and economic analysis Following a further fall in productivity …

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Communism versus Capitalism

Communism has been defined as a system where: People work according to their ability and receive according to their needs All big decisions are made at the centre All data is processed at the centre   Capitalism, on the other hand, is an alternative where: People are free to buy/ sell/ invest in whatever they like …

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Competition drives innovation

An unforgettable lesson on the need to avoid protectionism, told by Joe Atikian in the Globe and Mail, USA Competition in an advanced economy leads to more science, more advanced engineering and better products. That lesson should have been fully ingrained in the 1950s, when Russia beat the United States into space and permanently retained the …

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‘Silver Army’ advances

Excerpts follow from an article about the advancing ‘Silver Army’ by Gary Rotstein in the Pittsburgh post-gazette The future of older workers During a recent three-day presentation at Columbia University, a succession of speakers from academia and the business and health fields focused on the potential productivity of older workers who can help the economy and …

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Red-tape stifles productivity

Interesting views appeared in the Daily Telegraph from Sir John Timpson, chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson. He was asked what he thought the main issues were when it comes to the UK’s productivity problem – his reply is presented below, en toto We’re a nation of pessimists, beating ourselves up about a lack of investment, …

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Value overtakes price

In The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in Economics of Innovation and Public Value, University College, London, she firstquotes Oscar Wilde: “A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing” Her whole book then questions ‘where does value come from – what creates, extracts and destroys it?’ I am no economist, so …

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Unmotivated workforces cost $7 trillion, annually!

‘Employee engagement and workplace productivity are inextricably linked’ according to an article from Consultancy.uk Engagement apparently means ‘absorbed in and enthusiastic about work’ – just don’t ask why the word engagement is preferred nowadays to the straightforward motivation ! Gallup have just issued a report entitled State of the Global Workforce covering employees in 155 countries (of the 192 …

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P.I.N. – a new productivity broadside?

Last week I attended the launch of a new initiative for improving UK productivity – I sent the following email to Kate Penney, PIN programme manager – she has already thanked me and promised to pass it on Kate, I thought the launch of the PIN (Productivity Insights Network) last Tuesday evening in London went well – …

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CBI rides to the rescue

Having exchanged pleasant words about my new book Productivity Knowhow with the CBI’s Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, and members of her team, I chanced upon a report they had written, entitled: FROM OSTRICH TO MAGPIE  In it, they:  “Set out to find new ways to tackle the striking variation in productivity that exists between UK firms …

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New technology for improved productivity 

According to an article by Suresh Rangarajan, Head of Communications at Tata Motors, in the past decade we have created several new tools and platforms to transform our business environments to be more efficient, productive and cost-effective. It’s become a tidal wave Today, we hold advanced computing capabilities in our pockets. The smartphone is the …

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Freelancing is good for many

Freelance employment should be used much more by most organisations in sectors which: Need certain specialist skills, but not on a full-time basis Have fluctuating demand patterns making employment of a full-time workforce to supply in good time prohibitively expensive Using freelance labour (say 20% part-time, 80% full-time) is much like outsourcing some processes – …

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UK works longer hours than EU

Of the 168 hours in any week, the average person works (on tasks she needs to be paid for) around 40 hours of that time An average worker’s hourly breakdown per week is guestimated to be 30% work-related/ 70% home related viz: 40 (24%) = Work 10 (6%) = Commute to/ from work 60 (35%) …

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Blinkered analyses

When analysing the causes of a problem and seeking a solution, one should consider a few pearls from The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis: Once an uncertain situation has been perceived or interpreted in a particular fashion, it is quite difficult to view it in any other way Images of the future are shaped by …

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The future is mental

Some say we won’t need to buy anything in future – we won’t own a thing Indeed, according to Trip Adler, founder of Scribd, a book and newspaper subscription service: “In future, you’ll just pay one thing and then have total freedom to consume what you want” Netflix for video, Amazon for shopping, Spotify for …

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The bullsh**t job phenomenon

According to The Times, in 2013 David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the LSE, created quite a stir when he wrote an article about people in meaningless jobs with meaningless titles in meaningless industries – since followed up by his book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory It prompted a YouGov poll which established that 37% of …

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Beware taking the IT plunge

Professor John Seddon, CEO of Vanguard Consultants issued the following wake-up call for business leaders investing in the digital bandwagon The Big Consultancies too often peddle unnecessarily complex solutions to business problems, often not fully understanding the problem causes in the first place For example, Western quality problems in the 80s/ 90s were addressed by the …

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Time to change time at work

An interesting article by Business Leader columnist James Phipps, a ‘serial entrepreneur and investor’ and Exec Chairman of the Excalibur Group, about effective ways to improve employee productivity    We see relatively little about how to improve the awful productivity we have in the UK. We in the UK have a business culture which says …

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International trends in main sectors

As economies develop, their three main sectors – agriculture, manufacturing and services – tend to follow the same broad patterns viz: The agriculture sector shrinks as a % of the economy The manufacturing sector grows to dominate the economy (~ 80%)  but, once there, its % begins to decline in favour of the services sector …

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Absentee leaders are worst of all

 A surprising insight by Scott Gregory, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, was recently published in the prestigious Harvard Business Review – extracts follow A young friend recently remarked that the worst boss he ever had would provide him with feedback that always consisted of “you’re doing a great job” but they both knew it wasn’t true — the …

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More demand, more productivity

According to Marshall Auerback, a market analyst and commentator, after a year-long analysis of seven developed countries and six sectors, global management consultancy company McKinsey reported that: “Demand matters for productivity growth and increasing demand is key to restarting growth across advanced economies.”  The report by James Manyika, Jaana Remes and Jan Mischke was published in the Harvard Business …

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