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Efficiency is the enemy of invention
Talent, skills, HR
Slack matters – and no, not the messaging app – but too often a mantra of ultimate efficiency pervades organisations, leaving professionals trying to fill every working second. Simply, it’s possible to make organisations more efficient without actually making them better, by eliminating space for experimentation or responsiveness.
Why it matters
Marketers and agency folk are no strangers to packed schedules, but this idea – fleshed out in a piece earlier this year on Farnham Street – hinges on the difference between efficiency (operating with minimum waste) and effectiveness (operating towards the best results).
Slack, then is a degree of freedom that allows organisations to be more effective by ensuring a degree of organisational capacity that can be used for new ideas for the future of the organisation or even the ability to respond swiftly.
Management consultancy has created a vast industry around the idea of eliminating waste and making sure there are few excess resources.
But hyper-efficient organisations have problems too: mistakes or unintended consequences have bigger effects. When a team member (or their child) gets sick, the whole team will suffer.
Partly, it’s because humans are relentless optimists that tend to way underestimate how many tasks we can take on effectively and how long each one will take.
People rarely have the same quantity of tasks to complete each day; most people depend on others.
Moments of rest tend to allow people to think about whether they’re doing the right thing, rather than the first task they can take on in order to do something.
“As a practical matter, it is impossible to keep everyone in the organization 100 percent busy unless we allow for some buffering at each employee’s desk. That means there is an inbox where work stacks up” – Tom DeMarco, author of Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency.