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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  1. Energy is unlimited — 2 comments
  2. The bullsh**t job phenomenon — 1 comment
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  5. Mongrel, not pedigree, leaders needed now — 1 comment

Author's posts

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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Bank Loans need Trust, Growth needs Credit

The essence of the following examples was extracted from a splendid book, Sapiens, written by Dr Yuval Noah Harari Example 1 – Loans require Trust: For most of history per capita production remained the same In 1500, global production of goods and services was equal to about $250 billion – today it hovers around $60 …

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The need for money

Hunter gatherers had no money – they specialised in different tasks and shared their goods and services through an economy of favours and obligations A piece of meat given or free would carry with it the assumption of reciprocity – say free medical assistance or sea shells (much valued currency) for flint Local trade specialists …

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Free markets need reins

According to Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations:  ‘When a businessman has greater profits than he needs to maintain his own family he uses the surplus to employ more assistants to further increase his profits -and the more profits he has, the more assistants he can employ – thus an increase in profits …

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The birth of life insurance

In 1744, two Presbyterian clergymen, Alexander Webster and Robert Wallace, decided to set up a life-insurance fund that would provide pensions for the widows and orphans of dead clergymen Each of their church’s ministers would pay a small portion of his income into the fund which would invest the money If a minister died, his …

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Energy is unlimited

The following is mostly extracted from Dr Yuval Noah Harari’s splendid book Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind which is full of fascinating facts and consequences, and well worth reading We all know energy is vital for economic growth But why do so many doomsayers, nowadays, keep alarming us by saying we’re running out …

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UK skills shortages

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) claims it is ‘absolutely vital’ that UK businesses have access to migrant workkers from the EU ‘to mitigate intense workforce pressures’ Otherwise, British businesses and employers would no longer be able to compete – firms would be unable to get the staff they need …

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Steel industry productivity

Professor Mark Perry, University of Michigan, wrote about productivity in the US steel industry – this is especially relevant given President Trump is threatening to protect the industry by introducing tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminium The main reason for the loss of US steel jobs is a huge increase …

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Failure demand

The following article is reproduced en toto – it explains a concept which has an enormous impact on the efficiency and costs of many processes and staff morale – sadly, far too many managers, and consultants, seem unable to understand it or refuse to believe it – far worse, many of their customers, whatever the …

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Be single-minded

The following is an article by Professor Martin Hansen of the UC Berkeley School of Information The secret to productivity? Do less, obsess more Do one thing well, not lots averagely   In October 1911, two teams raced to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. One leader and his team achieved the …

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Winners and losers with AI and robotics

Artificial intelligence and robotics are disrupting every aspect of work and redefining productivity The old ways of dolng things are undergoing a massive change In a conversation with Knowledge@Wharton, Srikanth Karra, Chief HR Officer at Indian IT services firm Mphasis, discusses what this means for individuals, organisations and countries – in particular, Karra says: Managerial jobs …

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Outsourcing and immigration have downsides

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson and Harvard economist Jason Furman recently wrote that America’s weak productivity growth is a mystery in an article entitled “Slower growth has real political consequences” A Peter Skurkiss responded, commenting that “it wouldn’t be a mystery if these gentlemen would set aside their politically correct blinders” He continued A major …

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Are we equipped for the digital revolution?

The UK’s future prosperity, growth, productivity, exports and ability to attract inward investment all depend on how the nation responds to the challenges of the digital revolution However, according to Julia Adamson of the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT: “Unlike earlier technological revolutions which created opportunities for low, medium and high skilled workers, those …

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Low productivity for low wages – and vice versa

One of the greatest capitalist entrepreneurs of all time, Henry Ford, famously declared: “There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible – it’s not the employer who pays the wages, employers only handle money – it’s …

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Micro and Macro productivity

Productivity is a measure of how efficiently outputs are produced from costly inputs Sounds simple – but, if it means anything to anyone, it can also mean different things to different people, especially when used at micro or macro levels At the MICRO/ ORGANISATION LEVEL productivity measurement is used to: Check that most output is being …

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Current measures have huge gaps

Most managers, whether at task, process or organisation level, lack the comprehensive set of performance measures they need to cover all their KRAs (Key Result Areas) In effect, they’re flying blind Current coverage is estimated to be as follows: 90% – Financial results – in particular, Revenue, Costs, Profits – at board level, they might …

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How to improve national productivity

They say there are only two ways to produce sustained long term growth in the current material world: Increase the number of workers employed, assuming any one new worker produces as much as any other existing worker – but this is severely limited because: Birthrates, immigration constraints and right-skills availability restrict net increases The world’s …

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Wisdom of Groups

If you have a specific problem you need to solve, ask several people who have a vested interest and are not just picked randomly off the street In his splendid book, ‘Wisdom of Crowds’, subtitled ‘Why the many are smarter than the few, James Sorowiecki kicks off by telling the tale of Francis Galton, an English scientist …

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UK strengths far outweigh weaknesses

Listening to the ex UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, on the BBC Today  programme as he banged his tiresome ‘remainer’ drum and the economic gloom in prospect, one was prompted to ask: “Did he not hear the result of the referendum? Most people (outside London) are fed up with being told what to do by arrogant, unelected …

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Free trade is good for all nations

“Economists are worried about international trade” according to Harvard Professor Gregory Mankiw in an article printed by the New York Times No less than Adam Smith, in his famous ‘Wealth of Nations’ made the case for free trade, arguing that trade among nations is like trade among people: No one feels compelled to sew his …

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National happiness beats GDP hands down

Economist Ed Conway claims in The Times that “GDP is actually pretty good at measuring the total amount of income generated in Britain” His main point is that: Every politician from right to left obsesses about income above all other measures of progress Yet income comes surprisingly far down the list of what really matters …

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Much innovation not reflected in statistics

Susan Athey, ex Microsoft and now Expedia and winner of a prestigious medal for being the best US technology economist, was interviewed by journalist Ana Fuentes The following are extracts from her article: Q. Global growth, now running at 3.5%, might be a lot higher if we took into account the whole contribution from digitalisation …

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AI pluses versus minuses

Some optimists, like technologist Nick Bostrom, believe AI is: “The last invention the human race will ever need” However, given these are early AI days, fundamental questions still being asked include: How can we make sure robots’ only purpose would be to serve humans and our environment and make human lives better? Should robots make …

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Global recovery good for others too

According to Martin Wolf, the star FT (Financial Times) journalist, the world economy is enjoying a synchronised recovery which is good news not just for the G7 but emerging and developing countries too: Commodity prices have rebounded Trade volumes have recovered FDI capital flows to emerging countries have strengthened   His conclusions are based on precise …

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NZ Productivity Commission slams their public sector

A new NZPC (New Zealand Productivity Commission) report slams parts of their public sector for inefficiency It says the private sector measures its productivity but the public sector falls short despite $40 billion being spent every year on such as health, education, justice, law and order and social welfare “The New Zealand government has been …

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Nigeria seeks CI benefits – the West ignores them!

The Japanese government via their METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and the JPC (Japanese Productivity Centre) are collaborating with the Nigeria NPC (National Productivity Centre) to improve productivity in that country’s manufacturing sector with the aim of ‘boosting economic development and standard of living’ The NPC Director-General, Dr Kashim Akor, said: “The ultimate goal …

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