Progressivity, not Productivity

We aren’t really designing tools or practices to increase output, per se, despite using the term ‘productivity’ so liberally. We are really seeking to improve outcomes, which is something different altogether.


I’ve been struggling with the ‘productivity’ term for years, especially regarding the collection of capabilities or tools that help people coordinate, communicate, and cooperate at work. Historically, this has been characterized as ‘collaboration’, but that term has become too generalized, too widely applied, and too stripped of affect to really draw a sharp focus on tools and their critical role in helping us get things done.

Microsoft, for one, has adopted the term ‘productivity’ for such tools, and for the goal underlying their purpose. But ‘productivity’ is off-kilter: the original and subliminal meaning is the rate of output per unit of input, and which implicitly stresses increasing output. As I recently commented at a dinner party, the term ‘productivity’ has a bit of barbed wire in its deeper associations.

We aren’t really designing tools or practices to increase output, per se, despite using the term ‘productivity’ so liberally. We are really seeking to improve outcomes, which is something different altogether. And that distinction is critical, because it opens the door to incorporating innovation, creativity, and the emergent value of people cooperating toward mutual ends.

So, I am advocating the term ‘progressivity’ in this way, as a replacement for ‘productivity’. The definition is derived from progressive:

favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.

And the only conflict in common usage is that the term ‘progressivity’ is most often used with regard to tax laws. But that won’t conflict and won’t confuse, I don’t think.

So, you will see me talking about Microsoft’s ‘progressivity apps’ where in the past I might have said ‘productivity’.

Try it. You’ll like it.


Originally posted on stoweboyd.com.