Lean Office

How to Measure Knowledge Worker Productivity, Part 3

By Jon Miller Published on September 6th, 2008

How do we measure the productivity of knowledge workers? One can feel the creative juices ebbing away just thinking about this question. So we’ll skip Part 2 and go directly to Part 3. Why not measure knowledge worker productivity by the amount, volume and frequency of laughter?
If you laughed at that, we are on our way. As a measure of creativity, laughter is appropriate for several reasons, in my ridiculously humble opinion. First there is the famous UCLA study that compared the number of creative actions and the amount of laughter of a five year old human child and that of a forty four year old of the same species. Researchers found that a typical child of five years engages in 98 creative actions each day while elder of the species will engage in only two creative tasks. The child will laugh 113 times in a day, compared to a risible eleven times for the forty four year old people. There seems to be a correlation.
The truth is, scientists do not understand laughter very well. Common sense tells us that we laugh when something is funny but how many of us agree on what is funny? We all have a different sense of humor. We laugh at different things. Laughter occurs in many contexts outside of what is “funny”. Someone slips on a banana peel, falls and cracks their head. We laugh. In fact this is terrifying. Yet we laugh. Laughter may be used as a warning to others of danger, according to some theories.
Speaking of danger, here is a bit of Monty Python that always makes me smile:
Pither How do you know so much about cycling?
Gulliver Well, I’m making a special study of accidents involving food.
Pither Really?
Gulliver Yes, do you know that in our laboratories, we have developed a cheese sandwich that can withstand an impact of 4,000 pounds per square inch?
Pither Good heavens!
Gulliver Amazing, isn’t it? We have also developed a tomato which can eject itself when an accident is imminent.
Pither Even if it’s inside an egg and tomato roll?
Gulliver Anywhere! Even if it’s in your stomach, and it senses an accident it will come up your throat and out of the window. Do you realise what this means?
Pither Safer food?
Gulliver Exactly! No longer will food be squashed, crushed and damaged, by the ignorance and stupidity of the driver! (becoming slightly messianic) Whole picnics will be built to withstand the most enormous forces! Snacks will be safer than ever! An simple pot of salad dressing, treated in our laboratories, has been subjected to the impact of a 4,000 pound steam hammer every day for the last sixteen years and has it broken?
Pither Er….well…
Gulliver Yes, of course it has…but there are other ideas – the safety straps for sardines for instance.
Safer food. Chuckle. Is this funny? If so, why? If not, why not? We don’t know but another theory goes that when we make new and unexpected connections between idea that defy expectation or convention, this makes us laugh. If creativity is the creation of new things or making new connections, this link between laughter and creativity would be explained. So if we can measure the amount, frequency and volume of the appropriate kind of laughter, we may be able to use this as a leading indicator of knowledge worker productivity, measured as creative output.
The timber of laughter may also be important, as it is an indicator of fear or lack thereof. Laughter can often be an indication of tension, or an attempt to release tension. People who are very relaxed and both mentally and physically tend to be less ticklish. How do I know this? Let’s just say it’s within the domain of my research… This same tension or tautness, one might say rigidity, in the way we breathe, move and thinking can be loosened up through laughter, resulting in enhanced openness to new ideas and new connections: creativity. Seek the counsel of your human resource manager before bringing tickling to a workplace near you, however.
Or leave it to the professionals to help you have as much fun and laughter as possible. Yes, HAMFLAP. Guaranteed improvement in morale, productivity and performance? Visit the 24/7 Fun Work Zone to learn more.
Make your workplace safe to laugh and be laughed at. Laugh at crazy ideas. Have crazy ideas. It sure beats being miserable with great ideas.
Take me to Part 1

  1. Philip

    September 8, 2008 - 7:55 pm

    I think laughter in a group can be a bonding experience. Let’s say someone does slip and fall on a banana peel on the gemba. After everyone is done laughing, I’m sure there is room for improving 5s. Maybe even a kaizen and sop…ok maybe that’s a little too much, but you will think about where you step or where you leave your trash [or leaving the automatic banana peeler unmanned].
    If you listen to George Carlin, he talks about how some people don’t think certain things are funny. He takes a risque situation and changes a few variables and comes up with a funny joke. Isn’t that what the pioneers of Industrial Engineering do? They talk the same old boring story and change some of the constraints dramatically. Let’s say EOQ to lean. The same people that say that’s impossible are probably the same people that can’t get a good joke.
    So throw a banana peel under someone’s foot as your manager walks by, and see if he laughs.

  2. Ericmo

    September 9, 2008 - 4:32 am

    I notice that people laugh when they have discovered and proved something -an idea, concept or an important essential in a matter through acrualization or having tried it themselves . Its like Archimedes exclamation of “Eureka”. Perhaps we can distinguish which laughter is a productivity laugh by such manner.

  3. Philip

    September 9, 2008 - 1:39 pm

    Aha vs Hah

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