Managing Growth, from the Minnesota Business Magazine

February 2003
Managing Growth
by Maura Keller

Iconoclast
Economist Tor Dahl believes he knows what's ailing U. S. corporations

For Tor Dahl, the lack of bottom line results in major U. S. corporations is a failure of companies addressing deep and unresolved productivity issues. And he should know. After devoting the majority of his life to helping businesses and governments improve productivity, Tor Dahl and his company, Tor Dahl & Associates is well on its way to change the way organizations of varying size and sector, do business.

It all began about three decades ago when Tor Dahl, a Norwegian native began studying under the tutelage of Professor Ragnar Frisch, the first Nobel Prize winner in economics. Frisch received his Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work in "production function theory."

“The theory had never been applied to the real world, so I decided to do so,” Dahl says. “My whole career has been focused on this.”

For 11 years Dahl served as president and chairman of the World Confederation of Productivity Science, the leading organization for scholars, statesmen, and business leaders in the productivity field. In 1976 he founded Tor Dahl & Associates (www.tordahl.com), a performance improvement firm in White Bear Lake.

So what is the essence of Dahl’s productivity program?

“Think of an ‘impossible goal’,” Dahl says. “Maybe it is the invisible drawing inside of you that you always wanted to realize. If you are a company, it might be profits, satisfied customers, market share, or safe products. If you are a country, it may be the pillars of a self correcting market economy, freedom, safety, and justice.”

As Dahl explains, between “now” and the achievement of that goal is a logjam. “Each logjam has a key log that is holding the other logs in place.” When Dahl works with clients he teaches them that a log can only be removed if you find its root cause. “All logs have the same root cause: A bad idea,” Dahl says. “When you replace this with a good idea, the log goes away. That’s why the productivity revolution is a revolution of ideas. When a logjam is removed, productivity improvement proceeds at blinding speed.”

So what is the biggest myth surrounding productivity that Dahl sees? “That it eliminates jobs,” Dahl says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Productivity improvement secures jobs. The times of the highest productivity are the times of lowest unemployment. It was productivity improvement that produced the government surpluses of the nineties, the record low inflation numbers, and the record employment rates.”

More than 400 organizations and government entities have worked with Tor Dahl & Associates since its inception in 1976. From Fortune 100 companies to the governments of China, Mexico and Norway, Dahl has worked with a multitude of organizations on productivity issues.

“I once addressed the Academica Sinica in Beijing¾the oldest and one of the most prestigious Academies of Science in the world. They had flown in people from all over China, to decide if ‘productivity science’ was indeed a science. We engaged in a great debate.” As Dahl points out, not long afterwards, China established 500 productivity centers all over the country and in 2001, they established another 201 centers.

The “associates” portion of Tor Dahl & Associates include about 200 certified productivity specialists scattered all over the US and Europe. “We compose teams when we accept a project that consist of people with deep experience in what we do, and the sector of the project,” Dahl says. Project budgets have ranges as low as $2,500 to as high as $2.5 million.

While Dahl plans on accepting a few projects each year, the firm will focus on licensing and transferring its methodology to its clients. “Much of our future will be R&D in ‘high performance functioning,’ development of new products and processes for our licensees, production of books and articles, and consulting with countries on their strategies for rapid and productive growth,” Dahl says. “I’m comfortable with growing organically for Tor Dahl & Associates, and exponentially in licensees.”

 


Maura Keller is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.