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Ruminations. Reflections. Refractions. Code.

Feb 3, 2019 - Software dev Productivity Lifehack Work Culture Philosophy

On Efficiency

I read Getting Ahead By Being Inefficient today. It articulates what I have long practiced, and what to many, is counterintuitive.

It often means spending more time understanding the problem thoroughly, instead of deciding on a cookie-cutter solution in the name of getting things done fast. It means going against the tide of ‘obvious answers’ at times, even if you may reach the same conclusion.

I have often found that what is apparently obvious is actually not. Dig a little deeper and the proponents of said obvious solutions falter, if they are being honest with themselves.

In the article, I particularly liked the following (well-)highlighted point:

Total efficiency constrains us. We become super invested in maintaining the status quo because that is where we excel. Innovation is a threat. Change is terrifying. Being perfect at something is dangerous if it’s the only thing you can do.

Funnily enough, most people maintaining the status quo actually do a very bad job of it — mainly because the status quo may no longer be relevant. It is — dare I say it — an inefficient use of energy.

Most of my insights on topics have come from following rabbit-holes and digressing to seemingly divergent paths. At times, even analysis-paralysis has its place, because it shows that you have a plethora of choices that you can explore further. Go for a walk, a shower, shout in frustration to release the blob of paralysing energy!

In general, being inefficient in a good way, means having a holistic view of things. Generalists, by design, are never going to beat the short-term efficiency of specialists. Over a longer timeframe, however, the creative generalist has an edge.

This is not to say specialising is a bad thing, indeed, more and more I realise it’s best to be master of some, jack of many. To thrive, we must always be able to switch hats as per the demands of the situation and time.

But, mastery is much enhanced by the inefficiencies it discovers by being inefficient occasionally. I had to read the last sentence a couple of times myself, but I stick by it.

It is unfortunate, that many knowledge workers, in companies who really should know better, are treated like factory workers, when the type of work is completely different. Heck, I’d argue that factory workers that were slightly inefficient have contributed plenty to the overall production line processes!

Book Plug: If you like reading about meta-ideas and reflections, you might like a book I wrote some time ago.