22 January 2010

Efficency Is Overrated

I just finished reading a fascinating paper from 1973, titled "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning" (thanks for the link, Phil!). It's where we get the term "wicked problem," which is "a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize."

The authors, Rittel and Weber, point out that tests for efficiency are less useful in wicked problems than in tame ones (like math & science problems), and that we need to focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency in such situations.

It's a great paper, with so many interesting concepts, but the one I want to focus on for a moment is the question of efficiency. One of the key assertions of the Rogue Project Leader approach is that efficiency is overrated. It's not bad, but people tend to overvalue it.

Specifically, it's important to not be content with the superficial appearances of efficiency, or with the ability to expend very few resources on something we shouldn't have been doing in the first place. It's equally important to not insist that every activity have a direct, visible, conscious link to the desired outcome. Sometimes the most important cause/effect relationships are invisible and impervious to analysis.

So, spend time in quiet, unhurried reflection. Spend time connecting, playing, exploring. Go for a walk. Don't worry if you can't directly connect these activities or non-activities to the end result. If the outcome matters to you, it'll connect eventually. Maybe not in a way you can identify and describe, but trust me, it'll connect.

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