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Productiveness is the virtue of using our minds to discover how to create the physical values that our lives require, and taking action to produce them.

Human beings live best not by gathering whatever nature provides, but by producing what we need. Productiveness is a virtue because man’s life is the standard of value (refer to Ethics): productiveness is the means by which we sustain ourselves.

Productive work is the central purpose in one’s life. Even if we are wealthy enough that we don’t need to produce in order to live, we need a purpose to give ourselves control of our lives. A purpose enables us to decide how best we should spend our time: by allowing us to define a hierarchy of goals, it enables us to establish our priorities in life and to tie our goals together. It becomes the standard of action in our daily lives, allowing us to decide what we should focus on during the hours of each day.[1]


Goal Setting

This need for purpose, and the satisfaction that purposeful activity brings, explain the value of goal-setting as a powerful motivator in industry. “Assuming adequate knowledge and ability, the higher or more difficult the level of the goal, the better is the performance.”[2] John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum, was not happy with the quote of $675 million for developing a new oil and gas field, so he set a target of $405 million after bringing in the best advice he could find. The final cost was $444 million.[3] Cypress Computer is possibly the most goal-oriented company, with software that tracks everyone’s goals including the CEO.[4]

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Productiveness and Persistence

One of the qualities required by productiveness is persistence. Here are 4 examples of great productiveness and persistence:

  • In order to produce the first commercial light bulb, Thomas Edison had to find a suitable material for the filament. His lab tested thousands of materials before they found one that would do the job. At one point he reassured one of his discouraged workers by saying that they had made great progress – they had found 1000 materials that were not suitable![5]
  • Edwin Land (1909-91) who was a very prolific inventor - he registered 535 patents – was best known for his invention of instant photography. He arrived at the concept after his 3-year old daughter asked him why they had to wait for photos to be developed. He later joked: “Strangely by the end of that walk [a few hours after his daughter’s question], the solution to the problem had been pretty well formulated. I would say that everything had been, except those few details that took from 1943 to 1973.”[6]
  • Walt Disney conceived the theme park when taking his children to the local playground. He was inspired to build something much more enjoyable for the whole family. However, initially he was unable to convince his brother, who was in control of the company’s finances, that it was a viable proposition. So he sold his holiday home and borrowed against his life insurance and formed his own company. Eventually his brother bought into the enterprise.[7]
  • Ron Assaf, founder of the anti-theft equipment manufacturer Sensormatic Electronics, arrived at his idea after chasing a thief who had stolen some bottles of wine from the grocery store he was managing. Assaf spent two years developing the first electronic article surveillance system, but then had to pay his first ‘customer’ to install it. For his next 18 customers, he was obliged to install the system for free.[8]


The Moral Stature of the Producer

Ayn Rand saw the producer as a hero, as her great novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged attest. “Productive work is the road of man’s unlimited achievement and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values….It is not the degree of man’s ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.”[9]

The money-maker is “committed to his work with the passion of a lover, the fire of a crusader, the dedication of a saint and the endurance of a martyr. As a rule, his creased forehead and his balance sheets are the only evidence of it he can allow the world to see.”[10]

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[1] For a more complete explanation of this point, refer to Peikoff, L, Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (Meridian, 1993), pp. 298–300.
[2] E. Locke and G. Latham, A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance (Prentice Hall, 1990) referenced in Edwin Locke, The Prime Movers, Traits of the Great Wealth Creators (Amacom 2000) p. 89
[3] Edwin Locke, op cit. p. 91
[4] Edwin Locke, op cit. p. 92
[5] Edwin Locke, op cit. p. 95
[6] Victor McElheny, Insisting on the Impossible (Perseus 1998) p. 163 quoted in Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, Ayn Rand and Business (Texere Publishing 2001). p.123.
[7] Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, op. cit. p. 122.
[8] Theodore Kinni and Al Ries, Future Focus (Capstone, 2000) p. 312 quoted in Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, op. cit. p. 123.
[9] Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”, The Virtue of Selfishness (Signet) pp. 26-27
[10] Ayn Rand “The Money Making Personality” in Richard Ralston(ed), Why Businessmen Need Philosophy (The Ayn Rand Institute 1999) p. 30

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