The Brittle Side of Efficiency

by | May 30, 2022 | Change, Ideas |


Most organisations strive for efficiency – lower costs and resource input for greater production or service provision. It’s to imagine this isnt’ a good thing. And yet, can there be too much efficiency? Can efficiency lead to an unintentional risk and downfall? Is there a brittle side of efficiency?

One of the aspects of most versions of efficiency is the question of how to squeeze out one more ‘unit’ of production using the same or less resources. This led us to factories, assembly lines, Taylorism, and eventually lean management, Six Sigma, and Just in Time production and so on. We took all the slack out of the system as it was deemed to be waste. This drove production up and costs down. First in manufacturing and then it began to be applied in all forms of organisations – schools, governments, charities, services, and so on.

Reducing tasks into small, simple steps which can be repeated led to robotics – first robotic humans and then computers and artificial intelligence. More and more sectors and organisations became centralised. All in the name of efficiency and chasing of greater profits.

One of the challenges of this form of efficiency is it’s brittle side. The more highly tuned an organisation (or machine) is, the more drastic things are when something goes wrong. Small errors shut down the entire system or network. Bigger is better until something goes wrong. The other down side is often the lack of innovation. Highly strung processes do not have time to think of a different way.

Multiple points of failure may be more difficult to manage, but it be more innovative and less risky in the long run.

Photo by Dominik Scythe


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