Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

12 September 2011

Working Smarter

Clark @ 6:06 am

Work smarter, not harder.

Have you heard that?  I did, in my first job out of college; my boss said it, but it wasn’t clear what it meant.  What does ‘work smarter’ mean?  I already thought I was working smarter.  Well, as I’ve learned (in conjunction with my ITA colleagues), it means a number of things that organizations can, and should, do.

So, what is known about when we work smarter? We work smarter under a number of conditions: when we have a clear goal of what we’re supposed to achieve and we recognize it’s importance; when we’re free to experiment, explore, and even fail; when we have colleagues to collaborate with; and when we have the resources we need available ‘to hand’.  This provides some guidance about what an organization should be doing to optimize the likelihood of success.

We need to be doing meaningful work that we’re excited about.  We need to be connected to a vision, and understand how our role contributes.  There needs to be transparency above and below as well as ahead, so we can see how the parts are working together.

We also need a culture where that transparency is empowering, not threatening. It has to be safe to perform in public, to share our thoughts, and to both provide and receive help to others.  Where, when mistakes are made, the lessons are learned and shared.

We need to see it as important to contribute, and be enabled to communicate to the right people, and be able to work together to get the job done.  We need time to reflect as well, to take time to think about what we’re doing. We should be doing that publicly too. We need to learn out loud and together.

Finally, we need the tools available. We shouldn’t have to take time to go multiple places to get what we need, and use inconsistent interfaces to use them. We should have an environment where we’re focused on our tasks, and can get who and what we need to stay focused.

How to work smarter isn’t a mystery. The mystery is why  more organizations aren’t systematically breaking down the barriers to working smarter.  Are you ready to get going?


  1. Clark, thanks for “saying” these things out loud. This needs to happen more often. For anyone who’s interested, I see a direct connection between what you just said and the work of the future of work guys. Now if we can all get in the same boat, or at least similar boats, and go the same direction.

    Comment by Scott Johnson — 14 September 2011 @ 7:58 am

  2. Clark: Thank you for your latest posting . Your column this week on working smarter has me rejuvenated to continue the good fight. I believe that relentlessly, repeatedly asking how we can work smarter is the most important question of our time. In doing so any dialogue must eventually include the question “What are we doing to dumb down our organization that should be stopped immediately?” This requires a continual willingness on the part of leadership to share responsibility when results fall short of those envisioned by asking how they may have affected outcomes by constraining effective action.

    The Heath brothers in ‘Switch’ provide a pretty simple formula for addressing change when change is hard. There are few things harder than learning to do things a new way especially when you have a history of success. I agree that “how” to work smarter is no mystery, I am more concerned about the motivation to do so.

    Comment by Mike Cook — 14 September 2011 @ 8:49 am

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