What Microsoft Means By Productivity


This post was first published on my business blog, which I’m closing down now that I’ve retired, so I’m archiving some of the better posts to this blog

Microsoft has recently started to talk about productivity as part of it’s new mission, they used to talk about people, but that seemed to be forgotten in the ‘devices and services era’.  I’m excited about this as in my own work I like to think of my mission as “enabling productive people, places and teams” so we are broadly aligned.  Unfortunately it seems that a lot of people don’t really seem to understand what ‘productivity’ means in this context and so Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s VP of communications has had to write a blog post to clarify.  It’s worth digging into.  


Frank starts off by clarifying that this ‘new’ meaning of productivity goes beyond the traditional ‘office productivity’ tools, it’s a little surprising to me that this is necessary but this is how he sees it:

"Words matter. They define, they shape, they influence, they have power. But most importantly, they evolve as our understanding of them and the world evolves. And so it is with the word “productivity.” In the world of technology, the word productivity has often been narrowly defined – usually referring to work that involves a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or to do list. But in its broader historical context it’s a word that has always had a bigger meaning – as a way to describe or measure what a person, team, organization or company accomplishes relative to the effort they put in. In other words, productivity is simply a way of thinking about how well we use our time."

This new definition is about “how well we use our time” and the diagram in the top left, taken from his blog post tries to capture that.  I think he’s really talking about topics near and dear to my heart like collaboration, personal knowledge management, expert location, community building and lots more, but I’m happy that he’s starting the discussion.  he’s moving the debate beyond reducing costs, to adding value.  He goes on:

"We are entering an era where devices outnumber people and create more data than they consume and where the tools that served us well in the past will come up short. So making the most of our time will require a rethink of our tools. How will they need to change? We need to move away from tools that require us to learn how they work, to natural tools that learn to work the way we do We need to move from tools focused on our individual abilities to tools that empower social productivity We need to move from tools that wait for us to act, towards intelligent tools that understand context in order to anticipate and prioritize what matters most We need to move from a world where time and place dictate what we can do to a truly mobile world that revolves around us so that any device can become your device"

This is getting a bit too abstract for me, but it’s easy to agree with the key point, people are going to be using more devices and interacting with the data (or services that consume the data) that devices push into the cloud.

He closes nicely with the point that it’s all about helping people get stuff done:

"Taken together these reflect a shift in centrality:  from a world with devices, software, or clouds are central, to a world where people are in the centre. Still doing what they love, still getting stuff done, still looking for the best tools of creation to help them"

basically Microsoft need to focus on adding value to people on any platform, rather than blindly just pushing it’s own platform, I agree, but it has to do this without alienating fans of it’s existing platforms.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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