Inefficient Efficiency

by | Oct 3, 2022 | Change, Ideas |

inefficient efficiency

Efficient and efficiency are terms thrown around as a desired thing and the assumption of shared understanding of what is meant. Often, we define these terms as some variation of ‘achieving desired results with little or no waste (especially money and time)’. We seek to strip away anything deemed as ‘excess’ to make a product, process, team as ‘efficient’ as possible.

This works well when there is one, specific, clear, and agreed goal. And yet, most organisations do not have one goal, product, or process. And the challenge is that often what is ‘efficient’ for one process may make another ‘inefficient’.

So when we say or hear someone else say ‘This isn’t difficult, it’s quite simple, and could be much more efficient if we just did it this way…’ There are likely at least two things going on. 1. The person is asserted their view on the process. 2. They are only considering the process as if it existed in a silo or vacuum. However it doesn’t. It is likely part of a system.

Efficient systems and processes have waste. We rarely talk about it. There are decisions and assumptions made along the way. Efficient systems often target the majority – at least the ones we talk about. We tend to ask how to we reach the most with the fewest resources. And yet, what about the people on the margins, the hardest to reach?

What an efficient system looks like to provide aid to a million able bodied people in camps looks completely different than an efficient system to provide aid to elderly people living with disabilities who have not been able to leave their homes. This is true in aid, in social care, in health care, and even in product manufacturing.

It seems obvious. And yet, we often use one metric, one template. The one for the majority and deem it to be the efficiency standard to aim for. And then wonder why it doesn’t work. Or why people get left out. We call it efficiency, value for money, or whatever organisational metric we use.

We can have efficient systems for all scenarios. But they will look very different. Some of them may even look inefficient. Inefficient efficiency.

Are we ok with that?

Photo by Sajad Nori


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