Maybe you’ve heard of software developers who talk to a yellow rubber duck that sits on their desk? 

They are stuck with a problem, and talking to a duck helps them solve it. 

It may look like a joke, but it works. 

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), “a rubber duck” is a well-known technique for solving problems. 

But how is that connected with productivity? 

Let’s start from the beginning. 

Effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity

Effectiveness means successfully producing the desired result. 

Efficiency means that we’re using the least amount of resources to achieve the given goal. 

Performance is about how effective someone is at doing a good job. 

To put it simply: 

If a firm successfully makes a car with exactly the qualities they planned out it should have, that’s effective. 

To produce that car of the same quality, but with fewer resources spent – that’s efficiency. 

Productivity measures how efficiently production inputs (such as labor and capital) are being used to produce a given level of output (OECD).

So, both effectiveness and efficiency are crucial for productivity.

Inevitably, countless problems emerge along that road. 

Methods for fast(er) problem solving are a must if someone wants to produce something in a specific amount of time and with an adequate level of quality. 

Therefore, talking to a rubber duck as a method of problem-solving is very important for productivity. 

Why is it important to talk about your problems?

1. Talking improves all aspects of cognition.

When people talk about their problems, they hear themselves and activate new circuits in their brains. 

Our talking is tightly connected with attention, emotions, memory, organization, problem-solving and reasoning, processing speed, language, and executive functions.

Consequently – with productivity, too. 

2. Talking may cool a dangerously overheated viewpoint. 

Our brain can interpret recognized problems as a “dangerous situation”. 

That decision is made within milliseconds in our “ancient”, primal part of the brain that’s called the amygdala. 

The problems are the following: 

– This decision is based on PERCEPTION. A problem is not always a real danger; 

– “Bad news” travels to the amygdala very fast, much faster than to higher intellectual centers in the frontal lobes of the brain. 

Therefore, rational reactions can be significantly delayed. 

– Amygdala’s reaction is extremely powerful because it’s a “reptilian”, primal brain, whose role is to protect at any cost. 

It simply can’t make a difference between a living tiger and your angry boss; it can mobilize all powers that human beings have in the blink of an eye. 

The amygdala triggers a “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction.

It can disconnect higher intellectual centers.

And block the rational brain.

And the person is stuck in the horror of archetypal fear, anger, guilt. 

the amygdala hijack - low productivity

That’s an amygdala hijack. 

It’s very powerful, very stressful, and could be very dangerous. 

Amygdala can hijack your life (Goleman). 


Reasoning and mindfulness can ease stress and anxiety, help to relativize perceived danger, and – most importantly – give enough time for the frontal lobes to take over. 

The main problem with the amygdala hijack is that it leads to burnout on the fast track. 

And with burnout on the table – productivity suffers. 

3. You are going to feel better.

Anyone can imagine the relaxation that comes with discovering that someone else already had the same problem, solved it, and stayed alive :). 

People with problems tend to believe they are unsolvable. 

They sometimes crash into tunnel vision, where everything is dark and “there’s no help”. 

Here, the trust among colleagues is crucial: brainstorming can lead to a miracle, and consequently, relaxation. 

4. You are going to solve the problem!

Efficacy in problem-solving is, as it’s said, irreplaceable for productivity. 

Why do people tend to avoid talking about their problems?

1. They can’t recognize silence as a problem.

Many people are simply used to keeping their problems for themselves. 

Maybe they have had harsh experiences, were not encouraged to express their emotions, or don’t think it matters. 

Sometimes they even do not recognize what their feelings are. 


It could be hard work, but they can learn to express themselves verbally… And feel much better as a result. 

2. Habit or mindset.

There are a lot of families where emotional expressions are discouraged. 

“Everyone knows” that “boys don’t cry”, “don’t ask for (emotional) help”, but we know that’s not true. 

And it’s curable.

3. Fear, shame, guilt, or feeling of incompetence.

For every conscious, hardworking, honest employee, it is perfectly normal to occasionally have such feelings. 

Is it harder to talk to someone and seek help than to carry that emotional burden around? 

Nobody knows everything; it’s natural to ask for help. 

4. Believing in Karma or Destiny.

There are people with so-called external centers of control. 

Their deep, “carved in stone” belief is that anyone but them is responsible for all their mistakes and flaws. 

God, bad weather, childhood traumas, you name it. 

These people are hard to reach; but, anyway, they are not the kind of employees that tend to “go the extra mile”. 

They usually tend to pass problems to others; it’s a thin chance that they will strive to find a solution.

How to choose the listener? 

1. A rubber duck and its alternatives

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a duck; it can be a favorite stuffed toy, a favorite plant, but – no photos with emotional strings attached.  

Don’t talk to your pet.

We all tend to give them some human characteristics, and it’s not good if you suddenly realize that your pet is looking at you with “disapproval”. 

Anyway, my cat is interested only in pigeons and tuna. 

2. Another person as a listener – how to make a choice?

If you decide to talk to a person, be careful. 

Try to find a person that is a good listener, empathetic, kind, calm. 

If you can, choose a no-nonsense, sharp-minded person: they will spare you long drama stories of their experience, childhood traumas, the morality of your attitude, obscure philosophical ideas, their problems. 

They tend to listen carefully, and answer with some kind of (rational, no-judgmental) brainstorming that may help you a lot. 

3. People you should avoid at all costs.

Toxic persons

People whose behavior brings you negativity, bad emotions, and stress. 

Envious, petty people, gossipers, the criticizers, the stonewallers, emotional blackmailers, the list is endless. 

But trust your instincts and intelligence; luckily, you won’t find any of that sort in a carefully led firm. 

4. When to seek a therapist?

When the person is feeling trapped, anxious, not sleeping well, moody, quarrelsome, loses life energy too fast; when both self-esteem and enthusiasm for the job vanish; when a  feeling of uncommon fatigue permanently exists – and when all of those last longer than a few weeks. 

The therapist is not a fast problem-solving option, but talking helps a lot, trust me. 

The keywords are…

Keep talking! 

It’s more important than you might believe. 

And good luck.  

If someone tells you that their yellow rubber duck increases their productivity, believe them.