Thursday, March 13, 2014

Where Two or More Are Gathered There Will Be No Agreement on Efficiency

When looking to address so many of the problems that we -- individually or collectively -- grapple with, efficiency is often on the short list of ways to make a tough situation better.  When we examine environmental problems, we look to various forms of efficiency to make better use of the resources that are dwindling away.  When looking at making a day more productive, with look for better strategies to manage time more efficiently.  In sports, teams are looking more refined and erudite statistics to determine the combinations of players or strategies that foster the optimum offensive and defensive efficiencies required to improve the chances of victory on a regular basis.

Efficiency probably has a unique and undue command over our imaginations and aspirations.  One problem with the word "efficiency" is the blind faith that achieving it is the vital stepping stone toward achievement, gaining a competitive advantage or benefiting ourselves or the common good in some way.  The biggest problem with our over-reliance on efficiency as a solution or point of discussion is that it is far more subjective a variable than we care to acknowledge.  It is not objective, simply because the resource people maybe striving to optimize use of - be it time, money, energy, water or any other factor - varies from one person to the next.

Apart from the variations in what we chose to use efficiently, there are too many occasions where we narrow the number of inputs that go into the operation of a system.  The time and energy that may go into achieving the perceived efficiency and the time period that it takes to replenish or recover from that period of efficiency.  If we are looking at a battery for instance do we calculated the time spent recharging the battery and the amount of direct current the recharger requires?  We probably look exclusively at the amount of time that we are able to use that battery and disregard other aspects or calculations that would go into a broader calculation of the efficiency that encompasses a broader range of efficiency.

Far too often, the definitions of efficiency that are used are too narrow and occasionally (frequently?) border on self-serving.  The efficiency various manufacturers may attribute to their products would be the most obvious instances of this, but there are instances where we ourselves may look at time efficiencies over energy efficiencies.  Such calculations would figure into the decision to drive 15 km to a discount outlet to buy products in bulk, rather than walking 750m to a nearby store to buy the same product though at a higher price.  One may choose to ignore the likelihood that part of the bulk purchase would be discarded and settle on the savings per unit as the true measure of the efficiency of the purchase.

A great deal of delusion can be hidden in the use of the word efficiency and much of it is willful, whether individuals use it as a rationalization or advertisers use it with their clients' interests foremost in mind.

Given the amount of significance we attribute to the word, we ought to apply it with a greater sense of precision rather than play shell games with it.

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