The productivity engine

Words matter. They define, they shape, they influence, they have power. But most importantly, they evolve as our understanding of them and the world evolves.

And so it is with the word “productivity.”

In the world of technology, the word productivity has often been narrowly defined – usually referring to work that involves a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or to do list. But in its broader historical context it’s a word that has always had a bigger meaning – as a way to describe or measure what a person, team, organization or company accomplishes relative to the effort they put in. In other words, productivity is simply a way of thinking about how well we use our time.

And, as we all know, that time is increasingly scarce. That’s not a statement about work, it’s a statement about life. And that’s why we’ve set our sights on a much bigger goal: Helping people make the most of the moments that matter to them. Any moment, at work, home or on the move.

That’s why we’re not just in the “productivity business.” We’re in the business of helping people be more productive.

For Microsoft, last week clearly showed how big this productivity canvas is. First, we took one of the greatest productivity tools of all time in Microsoft Office and made it even more broadly available, bringing the service to iPhone and Android, and enhancing the mobility of people – across all devices, across all of life – to create, share and collaborate. That’s productivity. And then, across the globe we showcased productivity of an equally important, but very different way. We announced a partnership with the UK Guide Dogs to help the visually impaired to navigate cities in a ground breaking new way, supported by technology. That’s productivity, too.

Each showcased our core focus  –  reinventing tools for making the most of the moments that matter – at home, at work, or in between, and exposed how we think about the true meaning of productivity — it’s not a software category. It’s the engine of human progress. And as it has before, this engine needs to be reinvented to reflect our evolving world.

Because each day our world creates new technology. New devices, new apps, new services. Which means new ways to do things, new ways to connect, new things to learn. And while each holds the promise of helping us get more done, with less effort, too often they simply become one more thing competing for our scarce time and attention. Too often, these solutions become part of the problem. That’s why we need to rethink the way we make technology, and not simply make more.

We are entering an era where devices outnumber people and create more data than they consume and where the tools that served us well in the past will come up short. So making the most of our time will require a rethink of our tools. How will they need to change?

      • We need to move away from tools that require us to learn how they work, to natural tools that learn to work the way we do
      • We need to move from tools focused on our individual abilities to tools that empower social productivity
      • We need to move from tools that wait for us to act, towards intelligent tools that understand context in order to anticipate and prioritize what matters most
      • We need to move from a world where time and place dictate what we can do to a truly mobile world that revolves around us so that any device can become your device

Taken together these reflect a shift in centrality:  from a world with devices, software, or clouds are central, to a world where people are in the center. Still doing what they love, still getting stuff done, still looking for the best tools of creation to help them.

Because our customers are not constrained by an outdated definition of this thing called “productivity.” And neither are we.