Boosting productivity and innovation was a big priority in this year’s budget and a bunch of productivity support programs by the government are available. I have a severe productivity impediment. I spend my time procrastinating; searching the internet to see how other people are being productive, and I came across this.

The barista’s productivity was improved by placing all items that the barista requires to make a coffee within an arm’s length. Through a simple action of repositioning the items a barista needs in order to make a coffee, productivity is heightened since the barista no longer needs to walk / reach out to get the items he / she requires.

Chaos theory suggests that minute, almost imperceptible changes can lead to massive consequences (butterfly effect) at a larger scale in a longer time-frame. Maybe, like the simple repositioning of the plastic cup caps and the slight tweaking of an inefficient process, increasing productivity isn’t about being stronger, bigger and faster so much as it is about being willing to break old patterns and embrace a more dynamic and responsive process that is constantly refining with feedback loops.

Importance of Human Resources in Singapore

Singapore’s dearth of natural resources means it has to bank on humans – by training them to be highly skilled individuals who are able to tolerate harsh air-conditioned environments, repetitive stress injury and lower back pain. Consequently it is labour or workforce productivity when we hear ‘productivity’ being discussed by productive and powerful people who are freaking out about people like me who take forever to get things done or make a point.

Aside from seeking the advice of industrial engineers to rework the coffee making routine, perhaps implementing an effective and rapid feedback system via employees as well as clients, and a work culture of constantly seeking higher productivity gains with simple and cheap hacks, should also be a priority in every organization. For all you know, the barista in the video problem had her own thoughts about how to improve productivity – just that she did not do so, because she lacked the channel to give feedback.

Avoid “Reinventing the Wheel” Through an Open Platform

One modern production paradigm is to avoid “reinventing the wheel” as well as the related wastes targeted by LEAN methodology (management doctrine focused on reducing waste in production).

Intuitively, a more open source participatory culture might help catalyze productivity growth since it avoids forcing smaller firms into reinventing the wheel and allows products to be more rapidly developed. There is an organic “flow” targeted by the Toyota Production System, which relies on communicating with other components of the production chain which are tied directly to demand.

That said, openness is incredibly vague, but could simply describe greater choice and degrees of control over intellectual property and large data set. It also connotes a platform that can be built upon through the involvement of the market, customers, citizenry in development or data mining.

Viable platforms for sharing knowledge, capabilities, profit, etc. have yet to be established but could for example, begin with the government’s open data platform (data.gov.sg) improving the quality, breadth and regularity of its data. Structured but liberal data laws are necessary for cultivating a productive local base with a native technical foundation rather than simply attracting foreign innovators with the promise that they won’t have to share. Like open ports, open data should be a feature of Singapore’s free market in the information age.

The Way Forward: A More Creative Economy

The current tight labour market in Singapore is adversarial to old, labour-intensive processes but will hopefully stimulate productivity growth, especially by strengthening the weak and foreign-dependent technology base in the private sector. It also elucidates cultural preferences like the efficiency of electronic menus over inattentive human waiters.

As we rise up the value chain and begin competing among developed countries in a ‘creative economy’, we have to adjust to a more distributed, productive, volatile market – just like what mother nature taught us us, we have to change, constantly, or die. Well… either way we die, but you know what I mean it’s a metaphor and a long-term view thing.