Efficiency Needs Counterbalance

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my French cousin about the state of the world and our countries. I said, I believe part of the challenge in the culture of the United States is our seemingly ever-increasing obsession with efficiency without the counterbalance of long-term effectiveness. She responded, “You know in the French language, we only have one word – efficacité – it means both efficient and effective.” I was fascinated by the concept that in French, one concept doesn’t exist without the other.

When I think of French culture, I think of longer vacations, a focus on cuisine, dining and conversation, perhaps a slower pace of life. I’m not trying to romanticize the French as perfect as they too have significant challenges. However, the efficiency in their language makes me think that long-term effectiveness and shorter-term efficiency may go more hand in hand. What does that do to decision making?

This week alone the headlines showed that Boeing prioritized shortcuts for efficiency with tragic results; and our government is promoting policies that ignore environmental impacts to speed up infrastructure projects.

What does long-term effectiveness mean?

Our long-term effectiveness depends on our values. To prioritize effectiveness, we need to have some awareness, clarity and alignment about how we want to be effective. Effectiveness is defined as accomplishing our purpose, creating our intended effect.

• What is our purpose?
• How important is our health?
• Our planet’s health?
• Our relationships?
• Our ability to communicate?

Efficiency can narrow some of these answers. It is defined as accomplishing something with the least waste of time and effort. It is about speed. With speed, complexities can be left behind. There becomes little grey scale. Variables become either good or bad. Stock prices often rise and fall based on short-term gains not long-term strategy.

It’s not that efficiency is bad, yet without thinking about our longer-term purpose or our desired effect, there is no a counter balance. And we could easily end up in places we don’t want to be.

Walmart and Amazon are the behemoths of efficiency. But what have they done to diversity on Main Street America? In a world obsessed with efficiency, we may end up with a few winners and a lot of losers.

Balancing efficiency with effectiveness starts within

Balance begins with asking ourselves these questions:

• How are we leading our lives?
• Our families?
• Our teams?
• Our organizations?

Our choices count. Our voice counts.

Balance starts with asking ourselves:

• What is our purpose?
• What is the desired effect we want?
• What are our values that become our central foundation to success?

Then we can ask ourselves, how do we most efficiently get there?

And so I come back to my mantra: Create a few minutes of space and reflection every day to ask yourselves these questions. With small steps every day, we can courageously make our values and purpose central to our decisions and the way we show up in the world. It is about balance. Step by step.

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