Hours are a poor measure of productivity for knowledge workers

Mike and Matt have the same title at the same company. Mike comes in at 7am and doesn’t leave til 9pm. Matt strolls in at 11am, takes a two hour lunch, and leaves at 4 pm.

Who is perceived as the better worker?

Answer: Mike. He gives up his social life to be at work the whole time. This must signal he’s dedicated.

Here’s the real question though, who is the better worker?


The correct answer is: you don’t know, there’s not enough information. Matt can get more done in 5 hours of focused work than Mike can do in 14 hours. Matt might also be working from home, or thinking about how to solve a problem when he’s not at the office. Hours worked and face time do not equal effectiveness or efficiency.

Imagine that both you and your grandfather are given the assignment of finding out the daily operating hours for 5 major museums throughout the country, and your grandfather doesn’t know how to use the Internet. Chances are, you’d be done in 15 minutes and it would take Grandpa 1-2 hours.

In a team or large organizational setting, what’s a better measure of productivity than hours?

  • Piecemeal work – Every 100 insurance claims (or whatever) that you process pays you x dollars. For longer, more project based work, perhaps completing the project with detailed requirements, on time, or ahead of schedule results in different payments. Hours can still be used as an estimate.
  • Payment as a percent of value added – If you bring in $10 million of business for your company, you receive a certain percentage of this amount. This might be harder to do at lower job levels as more menial things don’t necessarily add value but are still required…
  • Competition based – For tasks that are repetitive (i.e. accounts payable, etc) the person who does the most piecemeal based work (with the least amount of errors) gets paid the most money. The second most productive gets the second most money. These stats could reset every pay period, etc. It would be a tournament style environment.

What other ways of measuring value can you think of?

Aggregate Google Reader Reporting

I’d like to know more details than just how many RSS subscribers a blog has. Google Reader reports your personal trends, but I’m not aware of an aggregate trend report. Imagine knowing some of the following stats:

  • The percentage of a blog’s posts that are read / total number of the blog’s posts (Would you rather have 1 post per day that 90% of your subscribers read or 20 posts per day that only 1% of subscribers read? This would hint at the overall quality of your blog / reader engagement)
  • Which of your posts are emailed and starred most frequently. This could be turned into a widget that you share on your site “Most Starred Posts” and “Most Emailed Posts”
  • A Top 10 “Most Emailed Posts” across all blogs list (both daily and weekly) just like the New York Times has
  • A Top 10 “Most Starred” across all blogs list — both by percentage of starred posts divided by times the post was read (this would increase visibility for smaller blogs), and just the number of times a post was starred (this would work out in favor of larger blogs, as I’d be interested to know which posts thousands of people find worthy of a star)
  • Last 30 days reading trends for each site
  • Subscribers added in past 30 days / Subscribers dropped in the past 30 days
  • Average number of subscriptions a user has

I’m sure Google could release even richer data. What kind of patterns would you like to find out about your blog (or someone else’s) ? Does anyone know if other readers have simliar trend reports? I know feedburner gives you your own site stats, but I have in mind being able to view data about all sites (that agree to it).


Individual Google Reader Sample Stats
Individual Google Reader Sample Stats

Virtual Call Centers

Instead of having huge centralized call centers, why not have virtual call centers?

The employee clicks a button on an internal webpage that he’s available to answer calls. This is his “clocking in”. His hours get logged and all service calls go straight to his cell phone (or VOIP). The employee can click the same button to become unavailable and go to a doctor’s appointment or pick their kids up from school.

Some type of hours coordination and management might be needed, but if you have employees in enough time zones with different working time preferences, this may work itself out. You can even try paying different hourly rates for different times of the day to control supply and demand without a rigid command and control scheduling system.

Get the person a set of headphones and an unlimited calling plan, and you can save millions in overhead costs. No rent, no electricity, no time lost commuting, less internal tech support, less admin work.

Value added ways to invest these savings:

– Listening to more recordings of customer service interactions to ensure quality, reward your best and eliminate your worst employees

– Hiring more operators so every call can be answered by the second ring, thereby getting rid of those awfully annoying automated answering systems

– Hire Americans that speak and understand English fluently instead of the current off shore call centers, which would also improve customer satisfaction (this assumes your customers are calling from America, change this as applicable)

This type of flexible scheduling also increases your potential work force. Stay at home mom’s and elderly people, who tend to be more responsible but unable to commit to 8 straight hours a day can now help your business.

Even better, you’ll get less turnover in your work force due to the new flexibility you’re providing. It would also be good for the environment (less carbon emissions, no driving to work, etc).

Flight Delay Insurance

Maybe I travel too much, but why don’t airlines sell flight delay insurance? This can help them gain additional revenues AND even increase their incentive to be on time.

A traveler chooses an amount of coverage, $x, he wants to be compensated if his flight is more than 1 hour late or if he misses a connection. The traveler pays some % of $x for this insurance.

If the flight is delayed, the traveler is less pissed because at least he receives a large cash payment.

If the flight is on time, he loses a small amount of money.

You could also do different levels of coverage. Late 1-2 hours would pay much less than being late more than 4 hours, or having to stay overnight.


I want to be paid $200 if the flight is 1 – 6 hours late and $2,000 if the flight is more than 6 hours late. Assuming flights are on time within an hour 95% of the time, and within 6 hours 99% of the time, the pure premium should be: 5% of $200 + 1% of $1800 ($200 of the $2000 have already been counted, as you would receive a total of $2000, not $2200l) = $28. Willing to pay $30 for the possibility of $2,000 if you have a nightmare of a flight? I bet lots of business travelers are.

A Bar for the 21st Century

Nobody wants to be up at the bar for 20 minutes ordering a drink. Good thing we can fix this with existing technology:

Install a bunch of touch screen kiosks throughout the bar where you can order drinks. Order your drinks, swipe your card, add a tip and a receipt prints out with your order # and a bar code.

Put a huge screen (or ticker) above the bar that lists all the order numbers that are ready to be picked up. Present your receipt, the bartender scans it, it disappears from the screen and you get your drinks.

These touch screens would take care of the transactional side of bartending currently done by humans, allowing bartenders to make drinks faster. You could also allow tip size to influence drink order queues. Let the guy willing to tip a $20 get his drinks first, just like it would happen in an old fashioned bar.

Of course, the kiosks should have user friendly menus that make finding any drink simple. The first menu could list beers on draft, wine available, specials and have a recommendation wizard. Want a drink with vodka that’s sweet but not girly looking? Use the wizard!

Bonus 1: Have on screen advertising by alcohol manufacturers to offset costs / increase profits. You could also create the actual kiosk in the shape of an advertiser’s product with their label (i.e. it looks like a giant beer bottle with the advertiser’s logo all over it).

Bonus 2: Bars could also charge for strategic positioning of drink items, just like supermarkets do. As research has shown, the upper left quadrant of a screen is where digital users look most often. A choice placed in this position would result in its being purchased more often, so you could charge alcohol companies to put their products in that corner.

Bonus 3: Combine this with a congestion priced bar to be the talk of the town (until everyone else copies you at least)

Congestion Priced Bar

Want to make your bar be the first to fill up after work and to stay packed until close?


To keep a bar always hopping, try making drink prices based on how many people are in the bar.


People want to go to a bar where there are lots of other people. It’s a network effects situation: The more people that participate, the more that other people find it useful to participate. (Think of the usefulness of Facebook with 25 registered users vs 25 million, lots of people using it is a network effect.) People also want to drink for cheap. Once lots of people know how cheap drinks can get, more than the minimum amount will almost always be there.

In a way this is a never ending, glorified happy hour that’s more sensitive to supply and demand.


When there’s less than 20, beer is $1, well drinks are $2. When there’s less than 50, beer is $3, well is $4. Less than 100, beer is $4, well is $5. Once you’re near capacity, make beer $6 and well $8. Full capacity with a huge line outside? Up those prices again to $8 for beer and $10 for well.

If implemented, economists may be a disproportionate share of your patrons!

Press Releases for All Academic Papers

Academic journals often suffer from being too technical for intelligent readers without subject specific knowledge to learn about the latest research in a given field. (Not to mention it’s impossible to read many of these papers without a Jstor subscription, which is expensive for an individual without university affiliations.)

Don’t academics want to influence public thought and let everyone learn of their latest discoveries instead of operating in pseudo-secrecy until (or if) a book comes out on the subject?

What if every published paper had a one page press release and a one paragraph abstract in actual understandable English? Important discoveries or ideas could be disseminated easier and to more people. Perhaps have an RSS feeds by departments and by tags.

The motto of these press releases would be “So simple, even a god damn journalist could understand it!”

(Quote paraphrased from John Boyd’s “I want this presentation to be so clear that even a god dammed five star general could understand it!”)

Take the Performance Home

One of the great things about theatre is that no two performances of the same play are identical. The audience and actors share a unique experience. Unfortunately, this memory fades with time.

Why not make a recording of each performance and sell it (or, even better, offer for free with admission) to fans as they are leaving the theatre?


Almost everyone has an iPod like device now, and it shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds to transfer the file. All you need is 1-2 cameras and 10-20 usb copying stations. You could do live editing of which camera feed is on, just like they do on live tv shows. You can even have quick 30 second interviews with key cast members and the director right after the show ends, with their thoughts on that specific show as a bonus track. The costs would be fairly minimal but the value add would be amazing.


– For directors and actors, immortality. The production lives on for forever, not just when the final curtain goes down

– For the production, free publicity. People will share it with friends, who will want to go see your show (if it were bad, nobody would want to transfer it to their iPod)

– For fans, reliving a great experience. Also, die hard fans can watch the same production on different nights and appreciate the differences

The technology exists and some concerts sell audio tracks of live shows minutes after the show ends. Let’s get this done.


Theatres can charge $5 – $10 a pop, maybe more. Most people who attend theatre tend to have a fairly high disposable income. Many fans would be willing to pay to keep the memory of an amazing show for forever.

Personally, I’d prefer to have this cost factored into my ticket, or be given an option on ticketmaster.com to pay a few dollars extra for this “VIP package” in advance. Behavioral economics has shown that splitting the time when costs occur to when you receive benefits makes you appreciate the benefits more (you’ve forgotten about the costs already).

Content Control:

Although I wouldn’t be a fan of this, theatres could employ Digital Rights Management (DRM) on these videos if they’re concerned about everyone seeing the show without paying for it. The fear being that most consumers would think, “I’ve already seen this on video, why do I want to see it live?” The solution would consist of advertising (in the video even) centered around how a live theatre experience and a video of it are two totally different things. (Ask anyone who’s gone to a concert and listened to the album of that same artist.) Theatres would probably come around in time as many companies haven’t accepted the idea that “giving away a non-core asset away for free actually increases your core business”.

Are there any drawbacks that I’m missing?

Customer Friendly Hours

Most retail consumer businesses open hours that make it inconvenient for people who work full time to shop there. Banks are one of the worst offenders, with many working 930-430, 9-1 Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Anyone working 50+ hour weeks is gonna have issues getting in there.

What if a huge bank started working teller’s hours that were good for consumers, and not for them? Early mornings (7am – 9am) and evenings (5pm – 9pm) on weekdays, and open normal 9-5 hours BOTH Saturday and Sunday? Some small banks do this, but they have yet to turn themselves into a nationally recognized bank for doing this.

Do you think if a major bank did this, it would become way more profitable than all other banks, or would all banks simply be forced to do this with no net gain for any single bank as a result? (Of course I believe consumers would have a net gain, but it might not be worth the large fee increases as a result.)

Is this collusion in not acting or finally an example of rational decision making?

“Let’s all keep short banking hours, it’ll help keep down costs”


“We’re not going to implement this because then all our competitors will, causing everyone’s cost of business to rise, without any additional revenue to offset it.”

Gym of Incentives

How about a gym that charges a huge annual fee up front and then pays you in cash every time you do a workout? (You can have electronic swipe in and swipe out to ensure you stay for at least 20 minutes or however long.)

At the end of the year, if you’ve averaged going the amount of times per week you set as your goal, you end up paying the same amount as you would’ve paid at a regular gym. If you don’t keep going to the gym, you lose the difference.

The gym can even place the money in an interest bearing account and split the interest with you. If you go more than the amount of times per week you set as your goal, you won’t receive additional cash back as working out too much isn’t healthy either.

How’s that for some incentive?


Program Type

Upfront Cost

Sessions / Year Targer

Daily Cash Back

Regular Gym




2x a week




3x a week




4x a week