Efficient / Inefficient





Efficient                            -                      Inefficient
Engineer                           -                      Artist
Specialist                          -                      Generalist
Narrow base                     -                      Wide base
Closed                               -                      Open
Order                                 -                      Chaos




Complex situations/interactions cannot be standardised. Standardisation implies known territory. In complex circumstances, an abstracted/wide view is more advantageous than a concrete/narrow view.




A strong mechanical metaphor characterizes [process engineering] approaches. The focus is on efficiency, stripping away all superfluous functions in order to ensure repeatability and consistency.

The engineering process takes place in a specific context and once achieved, shifts in that context require the engineering design process to be repeated to some degree before efficiency can be achieved again. Radical shifts in context may make the entire approach redundant or lead to catastrophic failure.

Manufacturing plant, payment systems in a bank and the like are all closed systems that can be structured and standardized without any major issue. We can in effect define best practice. However when we apply the same techniques to systems with higher levels of ambiguity, for example customer interactions, sales processes and the like we encounter more difficulties.

[Some of these] arise from the impossibility of anticipating all possible situations and shifting context. In these cases we need a different focus, one of effectiveness in which we leave in place a degree of inefficiency to ensure that the system has adaptive capacity and can therefore rapidly evolve to meet the new circumstances. 

Examples would include apprentice schemes of knowledge transfer, maintaining mavericks or misfits, allowing people to take training in subjects with no apparent relevance to their current jobs and providing more delegated authority.

There is nothing wrong with an engineering approach; there are many things that need high degrees of order and control. However taken to excess, and it has nearly always been so taken, it sacrifices human effectiveness, innovation and curiosity on the altar of mechanical efficiency .

[Dave Snowden]
'Multi-ontology sense making: a new simplicity in decision making'




The exact opposite of redundancy is naive optimisation.

I tell everyone to avoid attending (orthodox) economics classes and say that economics will fail us and blow us up […] The reason is the following: It is largely based on notions of naive optimisation, mathematised (poorly) […] and this mathematics contributed massively to the construction of an error-prone society.

An economist would find it inefficient to maintain two lungs and two kidneys: consider the costs involved in transporting these heavy items across the savannah. Such optimisation would, eventually, kill you, after the first accident, the first “outlier.”

Also consider that if we gave Mother Nature to economists, it would dispense with individual kidneys: since we do not need them all the time, it would be more “efficient” if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis.

Almost every major idea in conventional economics […] fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called ‘perturbation,” when you change one parameter, or take a parameter heretofore assumed by the theory to be fixed and stable, and make it random.

For instance, if a model used for risk assumes that the type of randomness under consideration is from Mediocristan, it will ignore large deviations and encourage the building of a lot of risk that ignores large deviations; accordingly, risk management will be faulty.

For another example of egregious model error, take the notion of comparative advantage […] behind the wheels of globalisation. The idea is that countries should focus, as a consultant would say, on “what they do best” (more exactly, on where they are missing the smallest number of opportunities); so one country should specialise in wine and the other in clothes, although one of them might be better at both. But do some perturbations and alternative scenarios: consider what would happen to the country specialising in wine if the price of wine fluctuated

Mother Nature does not like overspecialisation, as it limits evolution and weakens the animals.

Globalisation might give the appearance e of efficiency, but the operating leverage and the degrees of interaction between parts will cause small cracks in one spot to percolate through the entire system. The result would be like a brain experiencing an epileptic seizure from too many cells firing at the same time. Consider that our brain, a well-functioning complex system, is not “globalised,” or, at least, not naively “globalised.”

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 312-3




A typical strategy of companies and corporations is to eliminate redundancies and degeneracies in the name of minimizing costs.

This is the major reason why almost all companies have great difficulty adapting to change, and eventually disappear. Just as biological systems pay a cost for robustness and evolvability foregoing efficiency for long-term persistence, so too should we demand this of our institutions.

[David Krakauer & Geoffrey West]
'The Damage We’re Not Attending To'




This is hint to a central problem of the world today, that of the misunderstanding of nonlinear response by those involved in creating “efficiencies” and “optimisation” of systems.

For instance, European airports and railroads are stretched, seeming overly efficient. They operate at close to maximal capacity, with minimal redundancies and idle capacity, hence acceptable costs; but a small increase in congestion, say 5 percent more planes in the sky owing to a tiny backlog, can give rise to chaos […]

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 274



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Mono / Poly
Walk a Straight Line
Always Missing Something 
Top Down / Bottom Up
Narrow / Wide
Deep / Shallow