Yes, Twitter And Facebook Can Make People More Productive
from the understanding-productivity dept
Every few months or so, there’s some press release and flurry of news stories (often instigated by an online filtering company) about how whatever hot new internet service there is (take your pick: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, etc…) is costing companies billions in productivity. The studies all work the same way: they get some sort of estimate of how much time employees use such tools, and then multiply that times the average hourly rate — and, voila, a nice round number. Of course, this assumes something that’s simply not true for many workers: that productivity is a direct function of the amount of time spent on the job. But, of course, people change their rate of productivity all the time. If they’re tired and likely to make a mistake, letting them take a quick break actually can improve productivity. Assuming that any time not directly working is lost productivity is simply false.
Wired now has a short article by Brendan Koerner explaining how the opposite might be true — and for people who are “knowledge workers,” things like Twitter and Facebook may be improving productivity. His argument is based on an understanding of how creativity works, in that it’s often sparked by random ideas… such as the random ideas you might get while seeing what people are talking about on Twitter. There are two parts to the argument. First, studies have shown that if you’re working on a hard problem, it’s often helpful to stop focusing directly on it and do something else, while your brain actually keeps working on the problem subconsciously. On top of that, if you’re doing something else that might be intellectually stimulating, often something you come across may actually spark a unique and creative solution to the problem:
Incubation is most effective when it involves exposing the mind to entirely novel information rather than just relieving mental pressure. –This encourages creative association, the mashing together of seemingly unrelated concepts — a key step in the creative process.
History is full of tales of revelations that were helped along by such conceptual collisions. Alastair Pilkington came up with the idea for float glass, the inexpensive successor to plate glass, while washing dishes; the grease that pooled atop the water inspired him to pour molten glass onto melted tin, resulting in a perfectly smooth pane. And George de Mestral had the initial brainstorm for Velcro during a 1941 hunting trip, when he noticed how difficult it was to pick Alpine burrs off of his clothes.
From this, Koerner notes that Twitter and Facebook actually could work quite well in serving as this accidental conceptual collision machine. Of course, he’s not saying that these sites definitely do increase productivity, but he’s explaining how they could for knowledge workers. It really would be fascinating if someone came up with a way to actually test this and see what the results were.