by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
knowledge workers, productivity, social networks

facebook, twitter

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 9:47am

    In my job I occasionally have to switch gears from doing graphic design work to doing copywriting work. Every time I do the same thing: close all my design programs, crack open a browser tab and spend 15 minutes reading some blogs and seeing what's happening on Twitter to warm up my writing thought processes and cool down my visual/spatial ones. I'm quite confident we would find a neurological basis for this if someone were to do an fMRI study.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    chris (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 10:40am

    no they can't.

    free trial on our new web filtering software. save billions on employee slacking!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    bishboria (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 10:55am

    I follow a lot of software developers on Twitter and they talk about better ways to work. I try to incorporate their years of experience to help me get my job done quicker and better. All thanks to Twitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    yozoo, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 11:07am

    Time Bandit

    Techdirt however is a productivity sink hole! Mike Masnik is AMericas most wanted time bandit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 11:36am

    What they never figure into the equation... the age old business management question of workforce maturity. If you have a mature workforce, your usually better off with lax rules or no rules at all, just a prod in the right direction. With an immature workforce, on the other hand, stiff controls are more necessary.

    Creative staff, by and large, tend towards being a mature workforce. Ostensibly their work involves solving problems/issues/timelines that they WANT to solve....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Chargone (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 11:37am

    Re: Time Bandit

    obviously, you have never encountered tvtropes :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 11:52am

    Re: What they never figure into the equation...

    Nice ... That was well said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Overcast (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 12:03pm

    Ehh, dunno about that concept - but maybe. Twitter maybe, but Facebook?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Kat, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:24pm


    I get fascinating comments from technical colleagues on problems I pose on Twitter that then get cross-posted to Facebook. The threaded comment format allows a blog-like discussion (like the one we're having here!) wheras Twitter makes it rather more difficult to engage in a multi-party thread. (All those @replies rapidly take up my 140 characters!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 5:50pm

    Re: Re: Time Bandit

    "obviously, you have never encountered tvtropes :D"

    Hah! Man, that beats WikiP for biggest patch of quicksand on the interwebs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 6:29pm

    Re: Re:

    Twitter is best for short simple answers, e.g., "How do I redeem a promo code at the iTunes store?" Facebook may work better for more complex things (why is yellow dog linux being a bitch right now?) They're different tools, you deploy them as needed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    bassmadrigal (profile), Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 2:25am

    DoD Finally Agrees

    I was shocked when I got word that they are going to start allowing all these sites that they have tried so hard to block in the past. It is nice to see some top-level officials finally understanding the benefit for you to unwind while at work.

    Hopefully people are smart enough to balance work and play, so this new policy doesn't get reverted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Sharon Drew, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 10:49am


    I agree with the study. I work more hours, bring renewed energy and problem-solving skills to my work when I am able to decompress a few times a day and watch the Twitter and Facebook worlds go round for a few minutes.

    I recently read a somewhat heady paper exploring neural circuitry development in children. Net/net: Children have an intrinsic motivation to progress in learning. It is this motivation expressed by engaging in exploratory and playful activities for their own sake and not steps toward any extrinsic goal that allows children "to acquire new know how in a constant and open-ended manner."

    What does that have to do with anything? Well, in my armchair, self-serving research over the past several years about how our brains work, we don't change how we build circuits but we do gain this cool stuff in our brain cells that increases conductivity - that means we get rapid-fire speed of information to our brain.

    It makes sense to me that taking some time each day to let your brain out to play - i.e. do whatever it wants, like spend an hour on twitter - makes us more creative. AND we get more complex creative ideas at lightning speed. Well, until we peak and start that slow fall down the slippery slope of old age.

    Thanks for posting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    siri, Mar 22nd, 2010 @ 6:09am

    Can Any one clear my doubt?, Please..

    Twitter and facebook are really popular social marketing sites these days..

    But let me understand one more thing.. If we give information of something to our friends, to let them understand well if we give click the link option and gave link there, will that link be counted as a link for SEO????

    Please help me if any person here is of Search Engine Optimization..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    siri, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 6:46am

    Can Any one clear my doubt?, Please..

    did any one see my comment above? Can any one help me understand?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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