Productivity And Efficiency

If you ever played the game Civilisation, you will realise that to develop the country well you need to scale up many things, of which the following are the more important ones – science, production, economy and military. While balancing everything, giving priority to science will enable the country to scale up the technology tree, enabling more efficient methods of production, through which the economy is able to grow, and in the end to support the growing military which you need to maintain either for defence and/or offence.

While this is a game, it is in reality very much the same for us. The industrial revolution was a climb up the technology tree which Europe had and which others did not. The climb up the technology tree enabled mass production and increased productivity much more than what other countries could. As a result, they grew richer, able to support more of their military might and went on to colonise half the world.

In many countries, the leaders do realise this. That is why they tried to develop their technology tree if they could, and definitely will increase their production as much as possible, regardless of whether they could scale up the technology tree or not. Taking the current era as an example, the US is the leading nation in terms of technology. From military grade nuclear technology to household CPU processors, from medical advancement to electronic vehicles, China and US has been competing in all fronts of science and technology, though admittedly US is definitely leading. In some aspects such as processors, there mere fact that almost everyone uses either AMD or Intel is proof that China still has a long way to go. In countries like Vietnam where they are still not yet high up in the technology tree, they turn to secure production first by attracting foreign investors to set up factories in their country. While they do not have the technology for high-end production, they definitely could do lower end production. By increasing their production levels, they could reduce unemployment, earn more money and boost the economy.

With great technology comes great production capabilities. With advance machinery, the time taken for the assembly of a car can be shortened and thus generate more output per time period. But it does not mean that in the real world setting it cannot be the other way round. Because unlike games which are restricted by the game mechanism, real world involve politics and dynamic negotiations. If we look at countries with lesser technology, their production is mainly manual labour. China in the 2000s depended on its huge and cheap labour pool to attract foreign investors to set up factories in the country. With factories setting up in the country, China has gained a lot from the technology transfer as one of the conditions for these foreign multi-national companies (MNCs) to take advantage of their cheap production cost. I offer you low cost production, you share with me some of your technologies. Naturally there will be some gatekeeping for core technology, but either way it is a win-win situation for both. China took some shortcuts in terms of technology development and at the same time boosted its economy and employment rate while foreign investors get to cut down their production cost. If we look further back in time, Japan did the same in the 1990s. For those who are old enough to understand things in the 1990s, Japan has a reputation for being a copycat. It copied things from other countries until its copied items are even better than the original. In the 2000s, Japan shook off that reputation, having gained the technology and expertise to produce its own things. Japan is now known for its innovation. China is now slowly shrugging off its cheap imitation reputation and gradually being known for being able to produce quality goods. Cheap production has now slowly moved to Vietnam and other less developed countries. Now it is Vietnam which has the reputation of having awful quality imitation goods.

Of course, many of us are unable to affect policies and directions on the country level. But because of the significance of production, countries and businesses view it seriously and hence impact most of us who are working at a job. While some of us may work in the research and science sector, many of us are involved in production. Production of goods and services. From factories to content creators, from the hotel line to even a private-hire driver (Uber), from an accountant to even a lawyer, whether you are a blue or white-collared worker, our work output is mostly closely monitored by our bosses. Because how much you produce will directly affect the profit levels of the companies you work for.

That is why efficiency is also a concept championed at the country and company level. The more efficient you are, the higher your output, the greater the profits, the more powerful the company or country. But what are the wider consequences if your productivity, ie your output per time period is low? We will take my country, Singapore, as an example.

Singapore used to pride itself as an efficient country. But somewhere along the way, Singapore no longer became efficient. Productivity went down. In fact, it is so serious that in the workforce and in my everyday dealing with people, I see people unable to work well. The quality of work done is low, the time taken is longer than others and to get a piece of decent work out, the original submitted work has to be revised again and again, resulting in an even longer time to do a single piece of work. But let us use raw statistics to prove my point.

We can see that for US and the UK, their productivity has been increasing over the years, as it should be. Due to advancement in technology and as more people get educated, one person can do more and produce more at a higher level. Next we see the case for Japan.

We can see that although Japan is also a developed country with decent technical capabilities, its productivity is indeed not improving over the years. This is related to the lost decade in which citizens in general feel a lack of hope. But that is another topic altogether. Those who follow current affairs closely will know that Japan has been stagnant for many years, struggling to get its economy back up. That is a given, if all they can do is the same as 20 years ago. Their productivity in 2022 is the same as 2002. Now we look at my home country, Singapore, which I can talk about it in further detail because I understand it very well. Using Singapore as an example, readers can expand the logic out and apply to each of your own situation.

Similar to Japan, Singapore’s productivity has been the same for the last 20 to 30 years. With more people getting higher levels of education and with better technology, the amount of things one can do should be more than 20 years ago, where people were lesser educated and with lower technology. Yet despite all these, nothing was improved. As mentioned above, a general sensing of people around me showed that people simply cannot work efficiently nor submit quality work. Let me quote two examples. There will always be people who simply can still do things wrong even with clear and simple instructions. If you tell people to come to attend a meeting at 1400h punctually, there will always be people who are late. If you tell people to submit a report with a list of required items to include, there will always be people who simply missed out a few items.

Now in Singapore’s context, Singapore always bring in lower end foreign workers and higher end foreign talent. In fact foreigners make up a large part of our population.

Taking June 2020 (before the impact of Covid was really felt), this Singapore Government’s report stated that we have 3,523,200 citizens in a population of 5,685,800. This means that 61.96% of the population is citizens and 38.04% are foreigners. The 61.96% citizens includes foreigners who come in and took up citizenship in Singapore, making the actual born and bred Singaporeans even lesser. The overwhelming number of foreigners in Singapore was a big issue which made its way into every political election.

Now do note that I have nothing against foreigners, but this article merely attempts to explain why this is the case and why this has to happen.

Due to Singapore’s increasing education, many people are unwilling to do lower level jobs such as construction, road sweeping, domestic helpers (maids), etc. To cater to the demands for jobs in these lower level sectors, the Singapore government decided to bring in foreign workers to work in these sectors. Singaporeans have no issues with this. Now on the higher end jobs, there certainly are expert level jobs which requires very skilled workers. But Singaporeans generally do not improve on their skills and knowledge upon university graduation, or after their school life. In fact, many Singaporeans are not even able to do a normal level job well and with quality. These caused vacancies in the higher end, which had to be filled by the foreign talents coming in.

When foreign talents come in, it is not uncommon to find them to be in a supervisory position, basically they are the bosses of Singaporeans in the workplace. Now not all foreign talents are decent people. Some of them faked their academic qualifications, experience and skills. Some of them came in and decided to create a group supportive of them by hiring their own people instead of by merit, even if their own people are inferior to the locals or even if the job position could be filled in by Singaporeans. This created a further tension where Singaporeans are now saying that the foreigners are snatching away their rice bowl.

The sheer amount of foreigners in Singapore also made cultural and social integration a problem to solve. But the Government still need to do this because of one thing: maintain or increase productivity, which leads to more money.

To scale it down to the individual level, we ask ourselves: How does this really apply to me? I cannot affect government policies. I can only do what I can within my power and capability.

First we start off with what we can do. Do not slack off at work. At work we always see lazy and inefficient bosses, who skive off whenever they could and push the work to their subordinates. If there are more than one subordinate, there is a good probability that the team has a mixture of good and lazy workers. The lazy workers are rewarded with lesser work and the good staff are punished with even more work, because the lazy boss trust the good staff to submit quality work. The boss simply makes empty promises saying that he or she will fight for this good staff to get promoted or to get a good bonus in the coming year. But chances are that will not happen. The boss is too lazy to coach the lazy worker nor does not wish to take the effort to correct the work of the bad staff. This create a toxic environment where the good workers either get burnt out or they leave the company. I have seen it too many times. If you are in a supervisory position, work hard to increase the capabilities of your team. If you are a worker, work to increase your own skills and experience. The result of you being a good boss and having a capable team is that your team will support your work, and by frequently submitting quality work to your bosses, you justify your capability, salary, promotion and bonus etc. By increasing your own skills as a worker, you are able to either promote up to a higher level or able to job-hop to different companies, each with a negotiated salary increase. Your skill is an asset which nobody could take away from you. All these are related to having more money, which increases the speed at which you gain financial freedom. The objective is very simple: Justify your own salary with your output. Prove to the bosses that you deserve your salary and even more.

If you are running a business, work to see how you can improve on your efficiency. From hiring good workers and training them well, to reviewing processes in order to cut down unnecessary steps, or even upgrading machineries to increase production, increasing output while decreasing cost will increase your profit levels. Find ways to increase your efficiency. This is why bosses fire older workers with high salaries. The reason is simple: Maintain productivity at a lower cost or increase productivity with the same cost. Again, the objective is always higher profits.

On a more personal level, manage your time well. Good time management allows you to do more things within a 24 hour period. If you want to attain financial freedom, you have to do more than what the others are doing. You have to work more and earn more money within a given time period. But at the same time you would not want to neglect your health nor your family. These are important to you. Money is worth nothing if you are dead or too sick to enjoy it. What joy is having money when your loved ones feel that it does not matter whether you are dead or alive? While sacrifices of some sort are necessary to achieve financial freedom, a good time management skill will cut down the unnecessary sacrifices. In short, good time management allows you to increase your productivity, which you can use it either to earn more money or for your family and health. At the end of it, you will still come out better than the rest.

As a side note, happiness is one thing people often could not balance well. Just like in the game Civilisation, if you only focus on scaling up the technology tree, boosting productivity and earning more money to support your constant war, people will not feel happy. If your happiness level goes into the negative, your citizens’ productivity will drop and they will riot. It is the same for us on a personal level. Neglecting your own happiness will cause burnout and your own productivity will drop. Remember to take a break every now and then. I am not a machine either. There are periods where I do nothing but play games for a month after work, maintaining only the bare minimum for my business. There are times when I just do nothing but watch anime and read storybooks instead of working on my business. Take a rest if you need to, and you will go further. You are running a marathon, not a 100m sprint.

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