Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

austin-distel-WtXcbWXK_ww-unsplash.jpgThese two “E-F-F” words are what drives a lot of what happens in society today. If you want to run a successful business or a successful organization, you’ve gotta find a way to increase your efficiency, while maximizing your effectiveness. But which one is more important? As is often the case in life, it depends on the context.


For me, I’ve often defaulted to trying to be as efficient as I can (mostly). In the last few months, I’ve come to realize that my worshipping at the feet of efficiency might actually be costing me in effectiveness. Huh? Yeah, if you’re too efficient, it might mean that you’re lowering your effectiveness. In my head, I’m imagining one of those graphs where efficiency is plotted on the x-axis and effectiveness on the y-axis. As efficiency goes up, so does effectiveness. However, there’s a point towards the right of the graph where an increase in efficiency leads to a decrease in effectiveness. Becoming more efficient is no longer in yours (or the company’s best interest).

That’s a lot of words — how about an example. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. A recent episode of The Next Big Idea illustrated how you can have a wholly efficient system in AI/ML, but this increase in efficiency is lowering the system’s effectiveness. For example, let’s say you’ve got an algorithm that’s screening out candidates for specific qualities in your hiring process. Using AI/ML can accelerate the efficiency — it can read 1,000’s of applications in the time it would take a human to read a handful of applications. However, the system probably won’t be well-calibrated for racial bias (as has often been showing on numerous occasions). Increase in efficiency, decrease in effectiveness.

I liked the way that Prof. Eberhardt framed her suggestion: “add more friction to the system.” This will lower the efficiency of it, but it will increase the effectiveness. By adding friction, you’ll slow down the processing speed, but the slow down in time will build-in an opportunity to correct misgivings before they become official.


This also reminds me of a Farnam Street article about the difference between speed and velocity:

Velocity and speed are different things. Speed is the distance traveled over time. I can run around in circles with a lot of speed and cover several miles that way, but I’m not getting anywhere. Velocity measures displacement. It’s direction-aware.

A lot of people think in terms of one dimension (speed). Almost all of those people are passed by people who think in multiple dimensions (velocity).

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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