Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

You need a certain level of efficiency in order to progress. You’ll never make it through a book if you have to look up every word in the dictionary. However the professional world is full of individuals in love with efficiency. Based on personality-type studies, I’m told that fully 70% of individuals fall into the quadrant that is in love with harmony, organization, procedure, consistency, etc. These often are the individuals in charge of the financial books.

Intuitives and Perceivers are folks who can move ahead without much of a plan and in the face of great confusion and messiness. They are best in impossible situations and delight in exploring areas where others would never go. They use metaphors, stories, images and analogies to make their point. They often see patterns emerge where others don’t. Keen improvisers, they are rarely caught off guard, there is always something up their sleeve. They find administrative tasks to be painful, even stomach-churning. Red tape and routine drag them down, and they both resent those who erect these barriers and respect those who can deal with them.

In creative endeavors, once we reach a set level of proficiency we need to move ahead without further thought of efficiencies. We need to get out of the way of the intuitives and perceivers. There’s always room for more efficiency, but not in a research environment where we’re trying to build effectiveness. Efficiencies often open up new possibilities: as we get faster or better at a task, it allows us to explore many new options that before would have been just too burdensome. But this is the exception, because we’re unsure whether or not we really need that efficiency: fully 90% of new efficiencies (wild guess, based on experience) lead nowhere.

We forge ahead in our pursuit of effectiveness as far as it will take us, back-filling our need for further efficiencies only as they become painfully apparent. But not for the sake of efficiency, rather for the sake of greater effectiveness. We easily abandon efficiency efforts (even midstream) when they no longer service effectiveness. We don't care about economies of scale, that favorite tool of the tyrant. We seek a certain level of efficiency, but not too much.

There is a hierarchy to efficiencies. Scientific procedures roll up into studies which roll up into programs which roll up into strategies. The importance of efficiencies is greater at the level of the procedure. We have our set procedures, our toolkit, that we mix and match depending on the study we’re pursuing. Procedures by definition are routines, and must be done quickly and efficiently. We don’t have time to test the validity of each of our procedures. They need to be standardized so we don’t spend too much time explaining the how of our procedures, and can focus on the what of our results.

I directed the consultant doing the automation in the above project to another pharmaceutical company that was using the same clickers to count facial wrinkles in an evaluation their drug.

Automate, automate, automate! I make this recommendation for scientific ‘procedures’ in full recognition that most textbooks on innovation encourage a hands-on approach to work. The gurus of innovation are looking for those rare accidents, the spilled chemical on the shoe that leads to the discovery of ScotchGuard™. Fleming would not have discovered Penicillin if he had been using an automated pietre dish sterilization system. Although I have great sympathy for the hands-on approach, we abandon hands-on when it relates to the need for direct elimination of investigator bias+ and mistakes. Serendipity is tactical. Elimination of bias and mistakes is strategic, and trumps the tactical.

Further Reading