Efficiency vs Effectiveness

Navigating Turbulence in Business and Nature
Efficiency vs Effectiveness: Navigating Turbulence in Business and Nature

Efficiency vs Effectiveness: Navigating Turbulence in Business and Nature

Dr Suhas B. Dhande

Efficiency or Effectiveness?

The most efficient path between two points is the shortest, the straight line. Then why is the common housefly unable to approach its goal straight? Why does it go round and round in a spiralling circle as it comes to its destination?

Given its eye and body structure, the fly has to adapt itself to reach its goal; it gets to its goal in a way that is effective for the circumstance, even if it is not an efficient way. The fly has two large eyes, so large that they cover most of its head.

The fly can simultaneously see up, down, forward and backwards. The fly's eye comprises about 4,000 tiny, hexagonally packed lenses. No two lenses point in the same direction. Not only that, each lens operates quite independently of the others.

The flip side to this 360-degree vision is that a fly-eye view of the world is highly fractured; the fly cannot easily adjust for distance or see detailed patterns and shapes. Hence the fly does not have any sharp vision. It has what biologist calls a compound eye; Human have a simple eye.

The Human eye sees one large image; the fly sees the same tiny image in each of its several thousand lenses. As the fly approaches an object, the image shifts slightly in each facet.

To hold its vision of the object in a stable position, the fly has to adjust its whole body. At each turn of its body, the fly is closer to the object, so the radius of the circle of approaches progressively becomes smaller and smaller.

If one plots the approach path of the fly, it would resemble a coil or a spiral with a decreasing radius. So the fly has to move around in circles.

In human management, managers are trained to be efficient. In their pursuit of efficiency, they sometimes lose their effectiveness. So the question arises, are efficiency and effectiveness different?

All our training tells us to plan for efficient outcomes and expect the organisation to move along a straight line. Our desire for a secure future makes us want to get control of the uncertainty around us.

We carve for predictability, to avoid surprises and to be in command of events rather than let events be in command of our lives. For any educational or social training imparted to our children, we constantly motivate them to be efficient.

If they achieve efficiency, they are assumed to be effective. We expect them to solve problems by developing options and choosing the most efficient way. 

When employees join the company, we appreciate those who complete tasks on time or spend money within a budget. Managers who keep a tight diary and produce their output through excellent time management are noticed and rewarded.

Those who state and solve a problem with speed and efficiency are judged to be good; such accomplishment is rewarded.

None of the above actions is wrong. But they do have the effect of conditioning the mind to value efficiency greatly, and it is assumed that efficiency equals effectiveness.

Where people are encouraged to think for themselves, diverse views are bound to exist. An organisation is the sum of totally diverse viewpoints. Different viewpoints lead to differing agendas, which naturally serve as a source of great conflict among people.

These differing views halt relationships and sour human relationships along the way.

Future complexity comes from the fact that people in the organisation may or may not express their genuine views in formal forums or meetings.

If the view expressed in the table differs from the realistic view that the person holds, the complexity is further increased. That is why any organisation which has a truly 'compound' eye has a very complex agenda of actions required.

Like the fly, the anatomy of the organisation's 'eye' prevents a sharp vision from guiding the organization's movement. The lack of strong vision prevents it from moving in a straight line, the efficient path.

The organisation assesses its distance from the goal, makes a move, reassesses its distance from the goal, adjusts its body again and keeps repeating this till it reaches the goal, just like the fly.

Of course, it is the most important role of leadership to sharpen the organisation's vision. However, sharpening the vision and causing the organisation to move towards that vision only sometimes happens with efficiency.

The leader may need help to move straight from the problem to its logical solution.

It would be correct to state that while solving complex issues, going around in circles rather than a straight line is the more common mode of functioning; in some situations, it is an effective way for the organisation to function, though not necessarily efficient.

The more complex the problem, the more likely the effective solution will require the leadership to move tangentially rather than straight.

It is not that an organisation has a choice to be efficient or effective. It always needs to be effective. Depending upon the situation and timing, the path adopted consciously may need to be more efficient and efficient.

Managers often face a swirl of turbulence; complex and interrelated forces drive the turbulence. In business, the course must be charted under extreme uncertainty and accelerating change.

Our ideas about the future are shaped by our desire to eliminate or suppress turbulence. This reflects in the way we relate to the use of energy.

When we design engines or earthquake-proof housing, we seek to improve performance and ensure robustness by suppressing turbulence. On the other hand, when we are exposed to the natural forces of energy, we instinctively leverage turbulence for enhanced performance.

e.g. when a skier comes down the slopes or how a glider pilot glides.

The skier and the glider pilot seem to realise they cannot take a straight line path because their task has to deal with the inevitable turbulence of wind speeds or the winding Nature of the slopes.

They use that turbulence to their advantage. They try to move more effectively rather than more efficiently. They never ski in a straight line nor glide in a straight line.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Efficiency vs Effectiveness:&nbsp;Navigating Turbulence in Business and Nature</p></div>
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In Nature, the straight line is not the most effective way to move between two points. Nature rarely, maybe never, uses such linearity; it seems to use spiral. A spiral moves faster towards its eye than further out.

  • Water gathers speed as it whirls down a drain.

  • Planets close to the sun orbit faster than those at the periphery.

  • Witness how a wisp of smoke rises, not in a straight line but in a spiral.

  • Picture of the galaxy, the shape of a cabbage, seashell, shape of our ears all grow from within themselves in a spiral.

  • Water flows downhill as a stream in the same wavy way that blood flows in our veins.

The efficient way and the effective way in Nature are different. It would be nice if the two methods were identical but different. The environment is an external force that deflects them.

The spiral of turbulence is the natural companion of complex problems, so to lead through such turbulence, one needs to suppress the turbulence and reach the goal efficiently. A good alternative is to leverage the turbulence by choosing the most effective path.

Doing things effectively is the natural way of doing things. When you do things naturally, you extend the least effort. Ding things efficiently require an action – a skill or an approach that must be developed. If you see Nature at work, you will see that the least effort is expended.

Fish don't try to swim; they swim. Flowers don't try to bloom; they bloom. This is their intrinsic Nature. In ancient Indian science, it was called the 'Law of Least Effort'. Nature's intelligence functions effortlessly, frictionless and spontaneously. It is non-linear, intuitive and nourishing.

There are three components to the 'Law of least efforts.'

  • First, accepting that things are the way they are at this point

  • Second, without blaming others, taking responsibility to improve things.

  • Third, avoid defensiveness of your view and your past action.

We should count on our instinct for values. We must remember that our journey is towards the vortex, the centre's calm eye, representing the values we stand for.

Values and only values can help us withstand the inevitable political, social and economic turbulence. The great and more satisfying thing in life is a sense of purpose beyond oneself. This provides the value aspect of coping with turbulence.

Dr Suhas B. Dhande


KR Sapkal College of Management Studies

Savitribai Phule Pune University

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