Cool phrase of the day: Effective Efficiency

In a post earlier today, Jack Vinson reflects on six years of his blog Knowledge Jolt.  Jack was one of the first bloggers I ever followed and was one of the reasons I first started blogging, also nearly six years ago in June 2003.

I’ve had a bit of a blogging-block of late (I blame Twitter), so I thought I’d take the occassion of the upcoming anniversary of my first blog post to revisit my earlier blogs and repost (with maybe a little editing) my favorites in the hopes that this may get the juices flowing again.  It is fitting that this first one, originally posted on 1 Dec 05, was inspired, in part, by Jack.

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Cool phrase of the day: Effective Efficiency

Effective efficiency from Frank Patrick’s Focused Performance Weblog[The Focused Performance Weblog is still up and running, but the article I originally linked to doesn’t seem to be there anymore.  Odd.  -gbm ]

Jack Vinson and Jim McGee presented a session at BlawgThink about how knowledge management and collaboration affect productivity and process, which I like to look at as effectiveness and efficiency. (Now you know why the phrase appeals to me so much.)

BlawgThink attendee Jeffrey Phillips has also written a bit about process, etc in several posts: Sometimes process doesn’t matter and Actively Unhelpful are two that have caught my eye in recent days.

In the old days of the Industrial Age the relationship between efficiency and effectiveness was, for the most part, a linear one: the more efficient you were, the more effective (productive) you were. [It would probably be more accurate to say, “..the more effective you could be.”  -gbm] Even in the information age there are some activities which are, in essence, information assembly lines in which this relationship holds.

True knowledge work (whatever that is), however, seems to me to have an inverse relationship between efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, the more efficient a process the less room there is for the “waste” that is necessary to support innovation.

I don’t believe this is a straight linear relationship, though, nor is it likely a purely exponential relationship. Somewhere along the line, there is a spike that shows the optimum amount of efficiency to achieve maximum effectiveness in a given knowledge activity. (Note that, unlike an assembly line situation where most situations are very similar, true knowledge activities are almost always unique.)

Of course, this all goes back to what exactly we mean by knowledge work. There, I think more than anywhere, the definition of “productivity” and “effectiveness” is truly in the eye of the beholder.