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The New Efficiency–With Less, Do More ???

by David Brock on September 30th, 2009

I was struck by a letter from Steve Ballmer yesterday.  It was entitled, the New Efficiency.  I agree with many of the thoughts he expresses, particularly the notion of “The New Normal.”  However, in his article he goes on to talk about the concept of “with less, do more.”  (There is some subtle wordsmithing trying to say the concept is different than “doing more with less,” though I really couldn’t follow the article.

Regardless of how you position it, the thinking of with less doing more or doing more with less, has the potential of making us blind to new opportunities, as well as continuing the rhetoric that is exhausting everyone. 

We’ve gone through years of cutback and increasing demands for productivity and efficiency.  The reality of what this means in most organizations, is the work that was done by 10 people must now be done by 5–or less.  Too many are addressing this challenge by working longer hours, by taking needless shortcuts, by executing the same tasks only faster.

I think the notion this notion of doing less with more is wrong and orients us to searching for the wrong solutions.

I like the ideas of the new normal and the new efficiency.  I think to exploit these we have to  do new thinking.  We shouldn’t focus on doing more, but we should focus on “how can we do things differently.”  We should look at, turning things completely upside down.  We should consider redesigning organizations, processes, and work from a blank sheet of paper.  These approaches will open us up to new ideas where we don’t necessarily do more, but we do differently and better.

I’m tired of hearing the continued mantra of we have to do more with less (or however one chooses to wordsmith it).  I’m tired of solutions that focus on speeding up or making more efficient the current work processes.  The silver lining behind the new normal and the new efficiency is that we have the opportunity to think of new ways of working, organizing and doing business.  Let’s take the opportunity to discover these, exploit these, energize ourselves, our customers and our people.

  1. You’re missing the boat on this one, Dave. I recently took on a big new challenge where I had to achieve a certain goal within a specific time frame.

    There was no way I could get there through traditional channels. However, with all the given restraints – including “with less, do more” I was able to come up with ideas I would NEVER have considered before. The exercise was invaluable.

    We are too stuck in the way we always do things and think that less is less. Less can be the impetus for entirely new and extremely effective options.

    P.S. This might be the first time I’ve ever disagreed with you!!!

    • Actually Jill, we are in violent agreement—which may mean that I didn’t write clearly. Your point “I came up with ideas that I would never have I have considered before” is exactly the point I was trying (and apparently failed) to make.

      The traditional thinking, do more with less causes people not to think of change, but working harder, faster, longer hours, etc. The traditional approach is with less do more–the same way you have always done it. Ballmer’s article has the danger of temporarily masking it with IT systems, but not fundamentally changing the way we work. (Though I am sure he may not have intended it that way.)

      The new mantra needs to be with less do different. We always need to focus on less – that’s a key to productivity. But in doing so, we need to reinvent the way we do work. We need to do the exercise you did to look at the goal, look at the constraints and figure out how to achieve the goals within the new constraints.

      I’m not arguing against less, less is the reality of business management and improving efficiency/productivity. In most cases, I’ve seen, there is phenomenal value in with less do different. I’m arguing against the blindness with which we implement less. People/organizations don’t look at what they should stop—they just keep doing the same thing with fewer people and resources. They don’t re-examine the way they do things and reinvent their methods, processes, and approaches. They just say, what we did yesterday with 10 people, we will do today with 5 people. That equation never closes. Today I tweeted an article on “Inertia Kills Organizations.” It’s theme is similar, we don’t change, if our inertia keeps us doing the same old thing, going down the same old paths, we will kill the organization (and perhaps the people with it).

      Thanks for helping me clarify my point. Your example is exactly what I was trying to communicate.

      By the way, disagreement is fantastic. We each come out in a better place, clarifying our ideas, more importantly improving our ideas to come out with something truly innovative. I hope we disagree more—just as long as it causes us to figure out what each other is saying and how we reconcile our positions for a much better set of ideas.

  2. Dave, thanks for the informative article. Kudos to Jill, as well, for providing additional intelligent inputs.

    In my own point of view, I guess that the idea of “with less, do more” is somewhat obscure these days. With the fruition of the industrial age onto the digital age, many of our workloads are in fact lesser: we don’t have to compute figures manually, build things the way our forefathers used to and socialize the way it was done ten or twenty years ago.

    I think Jill had a point in saying that we are too stuck in the way we always do things and think that less is less.

    Keep those posts and intriguing discussions coming!

  3. Working longer hours is not “doing more with less.” It is simply substituting human capital for financial capital.

    A true mentality of “doing more with less,” inspires problem solving that leads to true “alchemy.”

    Is it always successful, nope! There are times that projects flat out fail because they were underfunded and under resourced.

    However, all too often in corporations and government agencies especially, the knee-jerk reaction is to throw financial or human capital at a challenge or initiative before we’ve stretched the boundaries of our strategies to explore if there truly is a way to do “more with less.”

    • Paolo, John, Thom: Sorry for being slow in responding to your thoughtful comments. You make great points. With less, do more — but differently needs to become a mantra for all business professonals. The notions of continous improvement, and continued reinvention of our businesses, processes and methods is critical to driving innovation.

      I’ve become very interested in the notions of design thinking. There is a lot of good stuff being written about it. One of the most striking aspects is that design thinking always starts with the customer. The intensity of focus on the customer that underlies it is very compelling.

      Thanks for joining the discussion/argument 😉

  4. Dave, Jill: agree w/the points you both make re: value of thinking bigger + thinking differently. Tim Brown’s take on the same issue, as presented at TED @ Oxford a couple of months ago, is a call for more ‘design thinking’ as a means to this end. In his view, it’s all about finding ways to use creative techniques + processes which routinely yield extraordinary results that leapfrog the expected, and get us away from ‘tinkering at the edges’:

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