What is first: Effectiveness or Efficiency?
By Dr. Ichak Adizes
Let us first define the terms:
‘Effectiveness’ is synonymous with achieving ones purpose. Anything that fulfils its purpose is ‘effective’. The cup I am drinking my coffee in right now is effective because it contains my coffee. The computer I am typing on right now is effective because I can produce this document. The same applies to any person who has a role to perform: “Is the CEO achieving the purpose of the corporation he or she leads?” If yes, he or she is effective.
How about applying the above definition to personal life?
To answer this question one has to first ask: what is the purpose of ones life?
Hmmm. This is not a simple question. Millions of pages have been written on the subject, starting with religious work and ending with the wave of self- actualization engulfing modern
Let us see if I can add to the discussion.
May I suggest that it is possible to be effective and still not be functional.
If you pay attention to any purpose, it is functional when it serves something or somebody else. The cup contains the coffee. The light bulb lights my desk. The food feeds me. The clothes I wear keep me warm or handsome. Everything is functional when it serves something else. Cancer can also be effective. It is cancerous. It gets its job done. If it is malignant, it can be very effective; but it serves only itself. Therefore, it is not functional, because it does not serve anything else but itself. Some people are ‘cancerous’ in their behavior. They serve only themselves. Some companies are cancerous; and unless they are a monopoly or a government, they survive only in the short run. If they are not functional, if they serve no one but themselves for a long time, they too will eventually perish.
To be functionally effective, one must serve the purpose of serving something or someone else. You are effective as a father or a mother, if you raise healthy children in body and spirit. You are an effective cup, if you contain the liquid. The light bulb is effective, if it lights a space.
Ok. So, to be functionally effective means to serve those entities or people you were designed to serve.
Now, how do you find out if you are effective as a human being? To be effective, do not ask yourself what is your purpose in life. Do not ask: “Who am I?” “What am I doing on this earth? ” “Why am I here? ” Those questions can overwhelm you and take you nowhere.
What should you ask yourself instead?
The word ‘ why’ is synonymous with the words ‘ for what’ . So ask yourself, “for what am I here?” I f you want to be functionally effective, the answer will be found by asking, “for whom” or “for what am I here?” Missionaries know perfectly well their purpose. Good teachers do too. And first class consultants as well. (I am not so sure I can say that for lawyers. I wonder what they see as their personal mission in life. To serve whom? What? To serve Justice? A lawyer friend of mine, when I wanted to sue someone, told me to forget it; and if I want justice, I should buy myself a dog and call it Justice…)
Back to the subject and let me summarize:
Effectiveness is the functional end result of achieving ones purpose which is to serve another entity.
What then is ‘efficiency’?
It is the way one carries out any process. Anything is ‘efficient’ if it can carry out its process or reach its goal with minimum energy possible. It is measured by output divided by input: how much energy is needed to produce one unit of output?
It is interesting to note that some languages do not have a translation for both words. They have either ‘effectiveness’ or ‘efficiency’, but not both. Hebrew has ‘efficiency’; but to express ‘effectiveness’, it uses the word ‘ purposeful’ . The same applies to Swedish .
Now, can one be effective and not efficient?
Sure. One gets to the purpose of ones existence—but not in a straight line, which is the shortest route between two points. One goes around and around and around until somehow one gets there.
Can one be efficient and not effective? That is a bit more difficult to see, but it is important to understand.
Take for example a person who hates his or her job. They go to work on time, go through the motions; but they do not fulfill the reason for their existence, as exhibited by the fact that the person hates their life, hates the work they do . Although he or she is efficient—they arrive at work on time and do not waste time, and they might even be doing their job effectively—they, as a person, are not effective. They are not fulfilling their purpose in life. The analogy would be that they are using the pen (their life) to scratch their head (the work they do) instead of using it to write (do what they were destined, designed to do).
And how does one know what one is designed to do with ones life?
Do what you love to do as long as it is not just to serve yourself. Simple.
Effectiveness is reached by fulfilling the function one is destined to do. Efficiency is the result of following the right form.
Now that we have discussed the meaning of the concepts, let us discuss what is more important: effectiveness or efficiency?
The intuitive answer is: effectiveness. It is more important to do something, even if it is not done well, than to do something very well and miss the purpose. Right?
That is how children behave. Give them a task and they will do it; but when you analyze how they did it, you wish you never asked them to do it in the first place, right?
As I am getting older, I am starting to appreciate the importance of form over function. Quality over quantity.
True, in the short run effectiveness is more important than efficiency: get it done even if it is not perfect. But in the long run, if you repeat this behavior, it can be a disaster. With lack of efficiency, we will eventually run out of energy and collapse; and the functionality will stop.
Look at yoga: First you learn to do the posture RIGHT. Then you start building endurance. Holding the posture longer and stretching more. You see, efficiency first, form first; then comes effectiveness—the result of doing yoga. If you go for the perfect posture prematurely, you can easily tear a muscle…
The same should be true for learning: First we should learn ‘how’ to learn. Then we should apply what we learned, to learn the content: form first; functionality later. My observations are that we do not do this in our educational institutions. We teach students ‘what’ to know. If they learn ‘how’ to learn, it is by happenstance. But since they do not learn how to learn in order for their learning to become a lifelong, continuous process, what they learned content-wise becomes obsolete over time—and that breeds lots of ignorant people in spite of their education.
This same analysis applies to management: In their rush to achieve results (especially if the infant organization is starving for cash), efficiency suffers. Form suffers. It is analogous to ignoring how children behave as long as they bring good marks from school. If they are ill- behaved, it will not surprise anyone if they can not make it in life—in spite of their good grades.
Form should precede function. How we do things is extremely important. If we do it right and then apply what we know to achieve results, it will be better than to achieve the results and then try to correct the process. It would be like letting the tree grow untrimmed and as fast as possible to reach harvest and then trying to straighten the tree that grew crooked…
This conclusion that form should precede function applies also to how we should manage conflict. Many people want to win an argument, and in order to win it, they might say or do whatever it takes. In doing so, they might win the battle, but they will wind up losing the war. Years later, we most probably do not remember what the argument or conflict was all about; but we will never ever forget how it was conducted. If we lost trust, we do not remember what happened, we do not remember the details; but our blood boils from remembering how the conflict was dealt with. We will never work with that person again.
The ‘ how’ is more important than the ‘ what’ .
Pay attention not only to winning the war, but on how you are winning it.
Take the long run view: Take it slow—or as the Italian saying goes: “Que va piano va lontano e ariva sano”: “Who walks slowly goes a long distance and arrives in one piece, i.e. arrives healthy.”
There is a problem, though.
A serious one.
How does one know the correct form unless one has a good idea of the function that is needed? You can not go and build a dam unless you first have an idea and a well articulated idea of what that dam is supposed to do.
The answer is to distinguish between a purpose and the fulfillment of that purpose. You must have an ‘ IDEA’ of what you want. But stop there. Stop with the idea. Do not go and do it. Go instead and articulate and develop the form to fulfill the idea first; and then and only then go and do it.
Many of us, and I am not an exception, have an idea and jump right into pursuing it into implementation.
From the idea, go to the form to how the idea will be carried out. Work out the details. When that is completed, then and only then go and do it.