When the Crystal Palace Exhibition opened in 1851 crowds flocked to London’s Hyde Park to behold its marvels. One of the greatest new technologies back then was steam power. On display and demonstrated at the exhibition were steam plows, steam shovels, steam locomotives, steam looms, steam organs, even a steam cannon.
Of all the great exhibits, the first prize winner was a steam contraption with seven thousand parts. When steam was applied, its pulleys, whistles, bells, and gears made lots of noise, but ironically did not do a thing. It produced nothing but amusement. Seven thousand parts moving this way and that, making a lot of commotion…but having no practical use.
These days we have lots of high-tech contraptions too. I-phones, computers, printers, data transfer devices of all types, messaging devices and social network systems. For all their use I must suggest it is too easy to confuse activity with accomplishment, to be fooled into thinking all the flurry of activity indicates something important is actually being done. Are there hundreds, maybe thousands of little parts whirring, buzzing, chiming, and clicking but you get the sense very little movement is made towards anything meaningful? I mean just because you send and receive a hundred messages it doesn’t mean that anything productive actually happened.
Busyness can be a comfortable alternative to the harsh reality of achievement. Busyness can, and often does, get in the way of actual productiveness. Poor time management skills, poor paper management skills, poor organizational skills can contribute to busyness but inhibit actual productiveness. So much time and effort is consumed by repeat efforts, missing papers, inefficient systems that is seems like you’re getting something done.
One Professor Huxley was attending a convention of scientists in Ireland and was late for the morning meeting. He hailed a carriage and commanded the driver, “Drive fast, I am in a great hurry.”
The driver took a mad pace and sped off. After a few minutes, the Professor asked, “Do you know where I want to go?”
“No, yer ‘onor,” he answered. “You didn’t tell me where to go but anyway I’m driving fast.”
Managers must consult the clock. They measure progress by the efficient application of activity against a set of quantitative criteria. Practical leaders do not. While time and efficiency are important to them, effectiveness is the only true standard. Quantity is important, quality is more so. Productive action must guide the practical leader. Being busy may be deceptive. Practical leaders want to get things done, but they make certain they get the right things done.