How Far Will “Efficient” Carry You

How does viewing point affect our behaviour?

We behave consistent with our world view. That is consistent with our moral standards, our biases, our optimism or pessimism, and our hopes, fears, and expectations. If we have a particular moral standard, maybe sanctity of life, or free speech, or respect for others, we will behave differently from those who see those values differently.

Behaviour is an expression of who we are.

Sometimes we use false standards

Efficiency is one such. Can efficiency get in the way of expressing ourselves to others?

I came upon an article on the Constant Renewal blog last week. When Efficiency Isn’t The Point and it made me realize that there are token values, like efficiency, that we accept without much thought. Life might be easier if we thought of them as useful guidelines.

Is efficiency a good organizing principle?

I would suggest it’s a good thing, but not complete for purposes of behaviour. It is easy to make it sterile.

An example from the article:

“Pillsbury started making instant cake mix in the 1940s, but it didn’t sell very well.

This didn’t make any sense. The mix made things easier. All you had to do was add water and you had something you could eat. Executives at the company thought they had a better product than competitors because they made things more convenient.

Then Ernest Dichter came along. His realisation was that making a cake is not mere drudgery. Cakes held meaning. They showed love. And the women who baked cakes didn’t feel that they were investing enough emotion when they used the mix.

Pillsbury listened to Dichter. They abandoned the original plan to have a mix complete with all the ingredients and took the eggs out. Sales soared, and they never looked back.”

That is a deep thought. Maximum efficiency didn’t work.

Some inputs are more important than ones that are easy to measure.

Efficiency is conditional

At 55 miles per hour, your car’s gas mileage might be 10% more efficient than at 70, but if you are going a long distance, it may be an inefficient use of time. Efficiency relates to the output given the inputs. All the inputs. One measurement is insufficient.

Six hours at 55 takes you 330 miles. Six hours at 70 takes you 420 miles. If you are going 420 miles, 55 mph takes an hour and 37 minutes longer. Maybe there is a refueling stop at 70 mph but it won’t take 97 minutes.

We usually don’t consider all the inputs when addressing efficiency and so get confusing results. Arguments sometimes arise. Confusion is not often yout friend.

You need to know does less fuel or less time mean more to you?

When output doesn’t conform to efficient ideas

Like the cake. With no personal satisfaction, how efficient would you have to be to make it a worthy? The answer is, you could not be that efficient. The love matters.

The measurement is the problem. When you measure, be sure you consider as many variables as you can find. Then, you must have a way to weight them in terms of priority. In the gas mileage example, if money is key variable, less gas matters, but it assumes time is a low priority. You will get an different idea of efficiency if time matters most. The problem arises when you value both equally.

Avoiding the confusion

If you know what you are trying to do and what resources you have (time and money for example) you can usually assign priorities. The idea of priorities is commonly seen in economics as tradeoffs. It is the idea you cannot have everything you might want. You should therefore create an imperfect but optimized package of inputs to get your output.

Try to avoid single measurement efficiency decisions. You can do that if you develop a clearer idea of what you are trying to accomplish and what you must input to get it. Maybe a cake is more than a cake.

The takeaway

Think more than one layer deep. Poorly crafted efficiency ideas get in your way. When you know your purpose and what you can apply to achieving it, you get more appropriate outcomes. Always know the purpose and the available inputs in rank order. Know also what you give up by applying them to a particular problem

An example of what happens when you don’t

I have noticed in the United States that many hospitals have a vaccine mandate for their care workers and that many of the workers are choosing to quit rather than comply. That cannot be helpful. Who will do the work? The governments in the United States have decided  to use the National Guard to replace them rather than rethink the mandate idea.

No big deal right? BUT. The National Guard is composed of civilians who typically work a few weeks a year in the Guard. When the government decides to call up healthcare workers, those workers will be leaving their civilian jobs where they are healthcare workers. Who fills the jobs they leave?  The number of vacant healthcare jobs will remain about the same.  You can see a benefit if you only see one step. It looks like a zero-sum game to me. Someone loses what someone else gains and the whole system is less capable.

Efficiency matters. You cannot afford to make many easy to avoid mistakes. Your resources are not unlimited. Optimize.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email

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