Efficient vs. Effective

You have probably heard both words before.  But what do they really mean? 

Dictionary.com defines efficient as “performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry; competent; capable”.

Many times, efficiency is touted as something to strive for.  When I think of being efficient, I think of doing something quickly, with little waste of resources.  That all sounds like a good thing, right?

What efficiency doesn’t do is pave the way for innovation.  It doesn’t leave room for self-development, growth, new ideas, or changes.  If someone is so busy being efficient, they don’t have the capacity to focus on being effective.

I would argue that a better goal would be to instead focus on effectiveness.  Note that I am not saying we should throw efficiency out the window, but instead our primary focus should be on effectiveness, first, then efficiency. 

Dictionary.com defines effective as “adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result”. 

If we strive to be effective, as opposed to efficient, we are still getting the project, job, or work done.  But we aren’t just looking at whether we had wasted time and effort.  Sometimes, in fact I would argue a lot of times, some of the best developments may arise out of effectiveness, not workers just trying to be the most efficient. 

As I started my new venture, I knew that I wanted to focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency.  I wasn’t going to chase down the next billable hour and try to hit time budgets.  Instead, I wanted to invest true time into being effective.  No, this is not time that is billable, but it is useful time that will enable me to learn, grow, and serve my clients in a more effective way. 

Efficient or effective?  What adjective describes your approach to work and why?     

Note: For more insights into efficiency vs. effectiveness, check out Episode #1 of the Soul of Enterprise podcast.  

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