The efficiency fallacy in the #responsiveorg context

responsive v efficiency
I’m at the #responsiveorg unconference in London today, and I’m on the hunt for dissensus rather than the echoic chamber of the converted preaching to the converted, as warm and lovely as that feels. So with that in mind, let me kick the tyres of one of the primary assumptions underpinning the #responsive org manifesto.

From Efficiency to Responsiveness – Historically, competitive advantages came from optimizing for efficiency and labor productivity of standardized product, with companies such as Walmart and Ford being common examples. As the flow of information increases, the competitive advantage is held by the organization that can react the fastest to new information. Companies achieve increased responsiveness by reducing the friction of information flow, increasing their iteration rate, decreasing their cost of failure, and optimizing their structures for adaptability.

This I like. I don’t however agree that this means we should face-off efficiency and responsive (the main image heading this post is taken from the current #responsiveorg slideshare, embedded below fyi). The following table, which coincidentally featured in my very last post (Doing the triple loop – profound leadership), expains why:

Single loopDouble loopTriple loop
Are we doing things right?Are we doing the right things?What’s right?
Learn new behaviourLearn new thinkingLearn new beliefs / unlearn old

Of these three learning loops the third loop is most fundamental, informing the second loop, which in turn informs the first loop. Being responsive is part of doing the right things, and with that established we can attempt to do that efficiently. It is not an either/or but a case of responsiveness taking primacy over efficiency.

This means the pursuit of efficiency, perhaps with a zero defects / six sigma intention, must be within the context of responsiveness.

As I type, Rachel Miller is hosting a session here on failure, and serendipitously this post plays into the concern Benjamin Ellis just identified where organisations find themselves working so hard making sure they don’t fail that they neglect to work out how to succeed.





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Managing Partner, Euler Partners. Author, "The Business of Influence", and "Attenzi - a social business story". Chartered Engineer and Management Consultant. Main Board Director of techUK.

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