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Counter-Intuitive Productivity and Business Hacks with Ted Gioia

productivity ted gioia writing
Photo of Ted Gioia on Story Power Lab Podcast with blue background


By John Millen 

When we want to improve our productivity, most of us think of time management. How can we cram more output into each and every hour of the day? 

This is the wrong approach, according to my friend Ted Gioia, a former international business consultant, who is a top music critic and author of 11 books.  He is also a recognized jazz pianist. 

Ted believes music has the power to change societies and is “a catalyst for changing human life and a source of enchantment.”  

The Wall Street Journal calls him a radiantly accomplished writer, and the New York Times says Ted is thoughtful and thought-provoking. 

Ted sat down with me for a conversation on this week’s episode of my podcast, Story Power Lab. Here are a few of his counter-intuitive productivity and business hacks: 

Focus on input 

Whatever business or craft you’re in, Gioia says, “you need to have good input to create good output. This might seem obvious, but our culture does not recognize it.” 

Jobs are evaluated only on their output. Leaders are taught to push for output and seldom ask employees about their input, such as what books they are reading. 

Gioia says:  

People look at me and see, “wow, he’s written 11 books and thousands of articles, how do you be this productive?” The first thing I say is don’t even think about the output. You must be more focused on the input. 

I may spend two hours a day writing. I spend three to four hours a day reading, which people think is, “how can you waste so much time reading?” And also I spend two to three hours a day listening to music because I’m a music writer. So you add it up, I probably do three times as much input a day as output. 

Gioia learned this as a Stanford MBA working at two major consulting firms, Boston Consulting Group and Mckinsey, before reinventing himself and his career. At one of the firms, he worked as a futurist.  

Gioia says, “It took huge amounts of input to come up with things that were provocative and profound and actually predicted the future. The beauty of it is the more you do it you start to see patterns that other people don’t see.” 

Shun the powerful to speak the truth 

As a music critic, Gioia works to be an “honest broker.”  

“You cannot be friends with the powerful, and speak the unvarnished truth,” he says. “I made a decision at a certain point that I was going to be the honest broker. I was going to tell it the way it was…” 

On a day-to-day basis when I have to make choices, I always do it for my reader…the reader-centric approach to writing. 

Gioia says some people argue that every scribe writes for the reader, which he says is not true: 

I see people who write to please their editor, I see people who write to get tenure at a university, I see people who write to maximize clicks, I see people who write for status, I see people who write music criticism so they can hang out with musicians. 

There are a million reasons people would write for someone other than the reader but I felt that I was going to do a reader-centric approach. Everything I do is for the reader.  

That’s what keeps me honest. That’s what keeps my feet to the fire because I write for the reader and I assume the reader is discerning. 

Those two ingredients have been absolutely the foundation for everything I’ve done over the last 20 years. 

Go outside your comfort zone 

Gioia preaches the benefits of challenging yourself in business and in life: 

I’ve found it’s extraordinarily valuable to give priority to projects that will take me out of my comfort zone and expand my skill set. Do this consistently over a period of years…it enriches your life it adds to your tool kit. 

To hear my entire conversation with Ted, including his business adventures in 25 countries on five continents, listen to Story Power Lab here, or on iTunes, Spotify, Google or your favorite podcast platform.  

Please do me a favor and consider subscribing and reviewing the podcast on one of these platforms. 

Note that we have moved the podcast to a new distribution system. If you previously subscribed, you’ll need to resubscribe. 

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John Millen

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