An interview with Adam Pisoni, American entrepreneur and previously, co-founder of CTO and Yammer, brings back to my table the issue of efficiency. Pisoni is very articulate on this:
“Efficiency is great if you can plan for the long-term. If you know what you’re going to do for a long period of time, you can really get into the nuts and bolts of how to do it efficiently. (…) The minute the future becomes unpredictable, efficiency can become your enemy”.
Slack in the system is often seen as inefficient.
‘Slack in the system’ allows for experimentation, adaptation, rapid reaction and rapid ‘grow-post-stress’, the basis of the antifragile concept. Innovation requires slack. You can’t have innovation without it.
The efficiency-innovation tension can be described as follows:
Efficiency requires predictable, repetitive, reproducible, reliable processes. Innovation requires the unpredictability of the answers.
Efficiency pushes for ‘zero defects ‘and ‘do it right first time’. Innovation pushes for trial and error, playing and prototyping.
Efficiency requires rational approach, logic, comfort of ‘making sense’. Innovation grows in irrationality, the unconventional and the contrarian.
Efficiency loves ‘closure’, the finished and stable situation. Innovation requires to ‘stay in beta’, the unfinished, the unstable.
Efficiency’s motto is ‘focus, focus, focus’, Innovation is crying for broad views, helicopter views and ‘connection of the dots’.
‘Slack in the system’ is a source of competitive advantage, to use business jargon. Pisoni quotes Zara, the Spanish clothing empire which runs manufacturing at maximum 80% capacity, to be able to respond on the spot to a new idea coming from any of the world outlets, and produce super fast a stock of product for testing.
Innovation and responsiveness requires slack. Slack is inefficient, for some people. A bit of inefficiency could save you. The minute the future becomes unpredictable, efficiency can become your enemy.