What McDonald’s can teach us about becoming more productive

by | Jul 8, 2013 | General Productivity

Takeaway: If you have little room to be innovative at your job, you also have little room to be productive.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 1s.

Rereading the incredible book Linchpin inspired me to write this article. I’ll have a review of the book up next week!

Quick – who is the largest toy distributor in the world? The answer may surprise you: it’s McDonald’s. The chain includes a toy in every Happy Meal, and distributes more toys than even Toys “R” Us and Wal-Mart.1

Here’s another one – who is the largest real estate company in the world? The answer again may surprise you, because again, it’s McDonald’s. McDonald’s owns a massive portfolio of properties, ranging from locations in bustling urban centres to locations in small towns, and the company actually charges franchisees not only for using the McDonald’s name, but also for renting the properties that the company owns. The company also strategically buys and sells its real estate.2

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The thing that most people like about McDonald’s is they know what to expect – a Big Mac is a Big Mac whether you buy one in San Francisco or Toronto. The service is usually quick, the workers are typically friendly, most of the locations look the same, and you don’t have to think much when you buy a burger at McDonald’s.

Or when you work there.

McDonald’s employees cannot be innovative. If the employees at one McDonald’s location start cooking up filet mignon in the back, even if they’re cooking the most delicious steaks in the world, their adventure might last a week, tops. McDonald’s workers are factory workers, and unlike the company they work for, they cannot be innovative. The innovation at McDonald’s made the company the world’s largest toy distributor, real estate company, and burger joint, but a McDonald’s employee’s inability to innovate earns them minimum wage.

Jobs that do not have room for innovation (“factory” jobs) are a race to the bottom. As Seth Godin talks about in his great book Linchpin, when there is no room for a worker to innovate in their job, their job is a continual race to the bottom – a constant struggle to get 10% quicker, better, or more efficient.

That’s not to discount becoming quicker, better, or more efficient at what you do. In a large way, this blog is about doing just that.

But when you have no room to be innovative in your work, you put away your real talent and potential for the sake of earning a quick buck or two. Not to mention that it’s near-impossible to ‘pull a McDonald’s’ and leapfrog your competition who are doing almost the exact same work.

How much room for innovation is there in the job you work? How can you be 10x more innovative, as opposed to just 10% better? What would it take for you to become indispensable?

Image credits: “Golden Imperialism“, McDonald’s in China.


  1. Source: http://www.fool.com/investing/small-cap/2004/09/03/the-stealth-toy-giant.aspx 

  2. Source: http://seekingalpha.com/article/73533-mcdonalds-is-a-real-estate-company 

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 27 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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