Action – doing something that will result in a valuable outcome
Activity – doing something – regardless of the result
We tend to think that if we are not doing something then we are not being productive – we need to be cautious of doing things because we think that more is better. There are many examples where more is not better – even drinking water. We need to stay hydrated and we think that drinking more water is better for us – but over a certain amount, it can cause toxic and dangerous effects on our bodies.
Since the discussion with Tobbe and Steve recently, I’ve been reflecting about times in my life when I’ve mistaken activity for action – there’s more than I’d care to admit at this point.
We should check what we are doing and ask ourselves – is it activity for the sake of activity or are we taking action and making progress – whatever the endeavour? To answer this we need to understand purpose.
One of my favourite things to check is the purpose of reports that are being generated. I’ve seen situations where there are 100’s and 1000’s of reports – and no one really knows how they are being used. The activity version of a report, likely came from an initial need to make a decision – let us imagine that we needed 3 types of data to make that decision – so we ask for a report every week with those 3 types of data. And then – due to the ephemeral role of data in decision making – we quickly discover that we need another 2 elements of data. Very quickly, we can have a report being generated every week with lots of data elements. A lovely amount of activity – but what if we are not making those decisions any more? And there are better ways to gather data when we need to make a decision – reports can be very . inefficient.
Whatever we are doing, ask about the purpose of it. Is it activity for the sake of doing something? (And therefore can we stop doing it?). Or is it action? (And we should continue).