Productivity and the “Intangibles”

One key concept I’m learning in Matt Perman’s new book on productivity is that of the importance of intangibles, which he argues are “the main source of value in our knowledge economy.”

Tim Sanders rightly notes that “success in the future [which is now!] will be based on the fuzzy intangibles: the culture you nurture, the processes for managing information you set up for your people, the partnerships you form around technology’s opportunities and challenges.” Technology, hardware, and capital can be copied easily. What can’t be copied easily is the culture and human capacity that create those in the first place — and does so in a way that engages not just functionally with people but also emotionally, so that people want what your organization offers. Effectiveness, in work and life, is thus more and more about the intangibles because effectiveness comes from people first, not things. Things are replicable; people aren’t.

So many organizations miss this, and that’s why they are miserable places to work. People become clock watchers, just putting in the time, because the organization doesn’t care about them but cares only about what they can do. In my opinion that’s not just unfortunate; it’s unethical. It’s not right to treat people that way because people are made in the image of God and are more than economic beings. They work for meaning as well as for a paycheck. Therefore, we ought to manage to the whole person, treating people as people, not as machines who are merely here to get a job done. And ironically, when you treat people this way, even though it is harder at first, you get higher productivity in the long run….

This is the great irony: defining productivity mainly in terms of immediate measurable results undermines the measurable results in the long run.

— Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 47, 48.


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