Productivity By the Pint

I once interned at a publishing company in Bath, England—and by interned, I mean sat at a desk in a basement that felt only slightly warmer than a meat locker and politely declined approximately 39 cups of the Brits’ beloved tea each day. There, I learned an important lesson about creativity.

Each morning, the head writer would meander into the office around 10 a.m. in jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt, where he would proceed to begin drinking a pint of Strongbow hard cider at his desk. Because this was England and because the concept of an HR department was as foreign to this small publishing company as the concept of daytime sobriety, this appeared to be perfectly acceptable.

While this initially was a shock to my American sensibilities, I soon noticed that this guy was producing brilliant copy for the company’s humorous travel guides on a consistent basis. Perhaps by relaxing and focusing on something else (even if that meant lukewarm cider), he wasn’t forcing himself to come up with ideas. They just came naturally.

I’m obviously not suggesting we all start bringing a six-pack to the office in the name of creativity. But the point is that sometimes we are most productive when we take a step back and focus our attention away from our daily job responsibilities.

Debbie Zumo, CAM, Property Manager at Herman & Kittle Properties’ Canterbury House Apartments in Baton Rouge, La., seems to agree.

Once a month she hosts a day with her staff devoted to ideas and innovation. On the appointed day, employees report to the office at their normal time and Zumo distributes a list of topics. Staff members are then permitted to spend the day any way they choose—be it on the property or off the property (but not, despite what they may do across the pond, drinking).

At day’s end, the employees regroup to discuss what they’ve come up with. The concept is called a FedEx Day, because you are expected to deliver something overnight. To be paid for the day employees just have to produce an idea.

The first FedEx Day was a hit and resulted in several great ideas, such as Assistant Manager Erin McNorton’s plan to help manage the property’s many rambunctious children through a ‘Get Caught Being Good’ program.

To encourage good behavior, the staff printed a list of do’s and don’ts for children and distributed it throughout the property. Now, whenever a staff member sees a well-behaved child doing something such as picking up trash or walking quietly in the breezeways, he or she gives the child a special coin. The coins can be brought to the community office and be exchanged for prizes such as small toys and candy.

Zumo says the key to McNorton’s idea—as well as the other suggestions that came from the FedEx Day—is doing anything but your normal job for a day.

Those crazy Brits may be on to something after all.

For information on Zumo’s FedEx Days, check out Ali McSherry’s article, “Now That’s a Great Idea,” in the November issue of units, which mailed Nov. 8. The e-version is available here.