I wrote before in these Daily Thoughts that a bit of inefficiency is very efficient
An interview with Adam Pisoni, Cofounder of CTO and Yammer brings back to my table the issue of efficiency. Pisoni is very articulated 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. The entire policy of the current Tory government in the UK, for the Public Sector, is to shoot at anything that looks like slack. The budget cuts amount to a colossal diet which focus is to slim down the Public Sector to the bare minimum. Seen as taking over from Labour’s waste, the Conservative cum Liberal coalition became the Mother of all Efficient Policy systems. The Public Sector is progressing to an unrecognizable anorexic state. At this rate the Estate will run with bones-no-flesh, but with very efficient ratios. It is, of course, a political choice.
‘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:
Effectiveness requires predictable, repetitive, reproducible, reliable processes. Innovation requires the unpredictability of the answers.
Effectiveness pushes for ‘zero defects ‘and ‘do it right first time’. Innovation pushes for trial and error, playing and prototyping.
Effectiveness requires rational approach, logic, comfort of ‘making sense’. Innovation grows in irrationality, the unconventional and the contrarian.
Effectiveness loves ‘closure’, the finished and stable situation. Innovation requires to ‘stay in beta’, the unfinished, the unstable.
Effectiveness 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 a business jargon. In the same interview, Pisoni quotes Zara, the Spanish clothing empire which runs manufacturing at maximum 80% capacity, to be able to respond on 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.