Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Striving for an Inclusive Efficiency

There is probably a sense that efficiency always ought to be pursued and that there are always benefits to finding more efficiency or applying more technology to problems that we -- whether as individuals, a society or a civilization -- may encounter.  There are regular instances where the pursuit of efficiency has unwelcome circumstances, however.  Anyone who has had the sense that they or their loved ones have fallen through the cracks when dealing with customer service or something more substantial such as social services or health care.

All too often efficiency has been narrowly defined by a handful of measurements; old chestnuts such as cost per unit, miles per gallon, units produced per hour and other simple divisions.  Another issue narrowing the application is the small number of people who lead in the determination of what is efficient.  These two factors make measuring efficiency far more subjective than one ought to assume.

Recently increased interest in collaboration and design thinking approaches to problem solving, change management or decision-making have allowed more data, anecdote and passion to be brought into the pipeline than had been the case in more single-minded approaches.  Some of this may be nothing more than the swing of the pendulum away from a positivistic slant toward more holistic, organic or integrated approaches but there is a sense that these approaches are not all candles and kumbayah but have generated innovative approaches that would not have been generated by smaller groups with narrower visions.  The majority, if not all, of the participants in these large group approaches see satisfying results, if only because a larger number of what ifs are taken into account and addressed in advance rather than from a disadvantaged, reactive position.

Much of emerging expertise surrounding the topics of designing thinking and other approaches to innovation are either putting efficiency metrics on the back-burner or coming up with newer formulae or measures that take a longer term view or an approach to efficiency measurement that is still subjective but takes a longer look at all of the perspectives that need to be examined.

Within these more collaborative approaches is a stronger recognition of the human element and the intangibles that get short shrift in the more narrowly defined pursuit of efficiency.  In those broader, more participatory approaches, there is an infusion of passion and possibility that is often the domain of the arts.  These approaches to change do not begin with a pursuit of efficiency that panders to bean counters, but with an empathy and a creativity that redefines the possible.

The redefinition of possibility comes with a more creative, holistic and comprehensive approaches that are broader in ambition and consequence than merely refining processes to wring that much more efficiency, cost effectiveness or time-savings out of a process that may be passed its shelf-life.  Such refinements of narrowly defined may only accelerate an organization's decline while providing comforting data the may provide some comfort but may only be covering the asses of the tunnel-visioned.  The body strives to conserve more energy but at the risk of sacrificing extremities.  An organization may find increased labour efficiency in the aftermath of layoffs but this may only stave off or delay failure rather than lead to a renaissance.

One example of an approach that achieves a more accurate sense of efficiency because more participants are contributing to the discussion or data collection as it were, is Dr. Paul Uhlig's concept of collaborative rounds.  I came across Dr. Uhlig in the recent writings of Peter Block, who described the rounds as an approach where all people involved in patient care, medical staff, other professional and family and contribute their insights on a patient's progress or needs.  The outcomes of this care model have shown that all measures of the patient's care improve when there is this more comprehensive approach to care rather than a more traditional, dare I say monolithic, model where input comes from a much smaller group of experts.

Innovations that draw on more of the available information, insight and perhaps even instincts available have the potential to generate similar redefinitions of efficiency and raising the bar for what can be achieved.