“Work smarter, not harder” is a staple quote in the world of business and startup inspiration porn. At face value, I think we all can agree that this is nothing short of a solid piece of advice.
After all, getting more done with less effort or fewer resources is the very definition of being efficient.
But what happens if you invest a lot of time and effort to “work smarter” on the wrong things? What if you are barking up the wrong proverbial tree?
Efficiency vs. Effectiveness
In my experience, it almost always pays off to be on the lookout for process optimizations, with one major caveat: it’s only worth the effort if these processes still align with the overarching business goals.
Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.
Author Stephen R. Covey illustrates this point in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with the following example on the distinction between management and leadership:
Picture a group of people cutting their way through the undergrowth in a jungle with machetes, clearing the way for a new road. Among them are the managers, setting up working schedules, writing policy and procedure manuals, and making sure that the blades are kept sharp.
While the managers are busy setting up compensation programs for machete wielders to boost motivation, the leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, peaks out above the foliage, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”
But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond?
“Shut up! We’re making progress here.”
This example is by no means intended as another middle-manager bashing. Still, it puts the finger on a behavior prevalent in many of the organizations I have worked with over the past two decades:
As soon as people get financially or psychologically invested in something, biases start to appear.