Friday, June 29, 2007

Closing the Productivity Gap

"[Roger] Martin is advocating that Canada completely restructure how it learns, works, taxes, spends and invests, in order to create a far more productive and technologically-advanced economy. His objective is to catch up to the standards of productivity and wealth set by the United States."
- Maclean’s - March 19, 2007

As chairman of something called the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, Roger Martin spends his days thinking about how we, as Canadians, can become more productive and overtake our American cousins in the great capitalist sweepstakes. Chief among his solutions are that we should learn to work harder, take shorter vacations and invest more in new technology.

But even Mr. Martin, who doubles as the dean of the Rotman School of Management, recognizes that Canadians are reluctant to take his advice. For some reason, we seem to like our longer vacations and we’re none too eager to start working harder.

Given those societal restraints, perhaps it’s time for Mr. Martin and his ilk to start thinking outside the prosperity and productivity box. If they did, they might come up with some fairly innovative solutions.

First off, has Mr. Martin given any thought to one of our greatest untapped resources: infants and toddlers? Billions of dollars are spent on Canadian babies with virtually no expectation of any return apart from the odd drool and a smile.

Perhaps it’s time we started asking a little more from our pint-sized citizens. After all, babies are nothing more than tiny persons. And we don’t expect persons, whatever their size, to get a free ride in this country.

At daycare centers from coast to coast, there is a huge untapped energy resource that we have inexplicably allowed to go to waste. Hundreds of thousands of crawling infants can produce untold kilowatts of energy in the form of static electricity. Once Canadian scientists come up with a way to collect that huge electrical supply, we can power entire towns and cities on baby static alone.

And what about children in daycares over the age of two? These are individuals who have developed rudimentary motor skills suitable for all kinds of routine workplace tasks. Given the government subsidization of many daycares, it is not unreasonable to expect these tiny tots to be at least somewhat productive during normal working hours.

Being a modern progressive society, we would not, of course, expect our small children to engage in strenuous labor or to work in unsafe conditions. But there is no reason whatsoever why these mini-workers could not participate in small assembly lines or to assist, for example, in the separation and sorting of recyclables.

Looking beyond daycares to our public school system, there is a readily available labor pool of millions of chidren just waiting to be tapped. Upwards of two hours of the typical schoolkid’s day is idly spent on such pursuits as recess, gym, lunch hour and study break. Why not make use of the abundance of energy possessed by these children and employ them part-time in school-based call centres?

Such a plan would, of course, avoid the worst excesses of child labor experienced in third world countries. Our schoolkids would only work during designated non-classroom break periods and there would be a daily limit of two hours of work with a prorated weekly maximum of ten hours (not counting possible overtime and weekend shifts).

And why stop with our children? There are millions of pets in Canadian households who spend most of their waking hours sleeping and/or licking themselves.

Why not put that incredible potential pet power to work for all Canadians? Dogs, cats and even hamsters could be harnessed to treadmills or wheels in order to generate electrical power for household use.

Roger Martin is right as far as he goes. But just as he criticizes his fellow Canadians for their lack of ingenuity and motivation, Mr. Martin suffers from the same failing.

We’re sitting on huge untapped reserves of energy. And all it takes is a little imagination to turn that energy into wealth for all Canadians.

We can all have even more of the good life if we only exploit the resources that are right in front of our noses. Dare to dream, Mr. Martin; dare to dream.

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