Efficiency or Effectiveness?

In my first banking job out of college, I was often tasked with odd jobs.  During my first summer there, we foreclosed on a small house located in a remote area of the county.  I was ordered to clean up trash in the house, remove old wallpaper, and paint the inside as we decided these acts would help bring a higher price when we sell the house. The job also had to be completed in the day as there were no utilities on in the place.

I traveled down some windy country roads to the house.  My first day of work was miserable.  Missouri is known for its heat and humidity in the summer.  I spent the day hauling trash the previous owner had left in the house out to a large pile to be hauled away later.  My boss told me he thought the cleaning itself, would take a week.  After the end of the first day, I had drug all the junk out of the house and was feeling great about how efficient I had completed a week’s worth of work into one day!

The next day, I went back to the office since I had no equipment for the prep and painting.  My boss was surprised at how quick I had completed the job.  He asked if I had pulled all the junk out of the basement.  This took me by surprise since the house I went to, had no basement.  Upon further quizzing, he discovered that I had gone to the wrong house to clean up.  All my efficiency was lost for nothing. 

Have you ever completed some task quickly, only to realize that you did the wrong thing?  This happens to me a lot with house chores.  I end up in the same position I was in at the house, very efficient in my work but not very effective.  It is like running on the hamster wheel fast but not going anywhere. 

Today, being efficient in the wrong things is easy to do.  We have moved from an industrial economy to one based upon knowledge.  When we were industrial, many jobs were based upon performing certain tasks well.  Tasks were laid out easily like a football field.  Efficiency and effectiveness was about getting to the goal quickest.

In today’s world, the goal is to still get to the goal the quickest, but the field has not been defined.  The first challenge is to take all the data that is available to you, sift through it, prioritize it, and come up with an action plan on the data you have remaining.  Then this info is constantly viewed considering other information to see if changes in the plan should be made.  Information is constantly being bombarded at you every minute. 

Consider email.  Over 4.3 billion folks on earth use email.  The average office workers received 121 emails per day in 2015.  Each of these represents something that must be viewed, and a decision must be made regarding action or tossing the email aside.  Then some priority of actions need to be set.  Look at the information on the internet.  In 2015, it was estimated the amount of information on the internet would pass a zettabyte.  To put that in prospective, if the cup of coffee on your desk equaled one gigabyte of data, a zettabyte has the same volume as the Great Wall of China!  Each day when we turn on the computer, we have access to so much raw information. 

Since we are limited by time, the first challenge we have in the knowledge economy is to define the field, obstacles, and goals we need to aim for.  The second goal is the need to prioritize the data we receive and act or not act where need be.  Otherwise, we may be very efficient in what we do, but not very effective in getting the right things done. 

Oh, and the wrong house I went to was actually foreclosed by another institution.  In the grand scheme of things, someone benefitted from my work, it just was not me or my employer!