Thoughts on Efficiency

Perhaps I’m lazy, but I like to find the most efficient way to do a thing.

Did you ever listen to Car Talk ? I used to listen every Saturday morning as a teenager. There was one caller that had a question about a car problem and a possible solution. It turned out, that the proposed solution would indeed work but, as Ray said, “It wouldn’t be the cowboy way.” I still laugh about this from time to time, especially when I see someone doing something inefficiently.

Perhaps I’m lazy, but I like to find the most efficient way to do a thing. This, I believe, is a learned trait. I learned it in a roundabout way while working for hire as a second grader. We would do anything from landscaping and construction clean up, to farm work where I learned how to drive. Pop, or his business partner Marion, would give specific instructions about a task-often the grunt work in a larger process-and expect us-Zach and I- to do exactly what they told us, precisely how we were shown, while rarely-if ever-explaining the whole system.

We didn’t complain, after all they hired us to do the simple work, not to understand the whole process. “You get paid from the neck down.” Marion would remind us if we ever “had an idea”. This labor without understanding is the basest type of working. All you need to do is show up and breath. I’m not throwing off on this kind of work, it’s necessary. I also think it is important to learn how to follow instructions. Maybe you know a coworker that has never really learned how to meet the most basic of requirements.

After working at this level for a while you begin to ask yourself questions. Why am I doing this? The first answer is money. I’m working for money. That is usually a good enough answer to keep most people working, until you ask yourself, Why am I doing this this way? This is when you start thinking about efficiency. You’ll start wanting to understand how the whole system works instead of just your task.

From here a stream of questions will begin to flow rapidly, How does this all work? Can it work better? What is important? Are we wasting time doing things that do not matter? How can we streamline this?

I’m not sure what to call it, but I’m pretty sure this is another level of working, understanding the whole process. And making that process or system more efficient is another level I’m sure.

“There is the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way.”

Everyone I ever met who served in the US Navy

If there has been one thing I’ve learned as an adult in the work force it has been, not everyone wants things to be more efficient and there is always resistance to change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ve often heard this response when someone would rather stick with an inefficient process than take the time to learn a more efficient way. Let me be clear, efficiency is not the same as cutting corners.

I remember my Dad dealing with a situation like this when he managed a machine shop. He met resistance while introducing a more efficient system, particularly from one man who had been working there for quite a while. My Dad had a unique way with people.

“What is the best vehicle ever made?” Dad asked the belligerent man.

Without hesitation the man said ” The 1956 Chevrolet pickup truck.

“What did you drive to work this morning?” Dad asked the man.

“A 96′ Chevrolet pickup truck.”

“Why didn’t you drive the 1956 Chevy truck?”

“Well the 1956 gets real bad gas mileage, and the ’96 can has a much larger towing capacity…” He rattled on like car people do until he realized that Dad was making a point about the new process.

A big part of my current job is helping people use the internet. Occasionally someone will walk into the office and smart off to me about not having a computer.

“I ain’t got one and ain’t ever planning to have one. Don’t need one.” It’s a point of pride to them. Well you needed one today or you wouldn’t be here, I think to myself.

“Yeah, I’m sure there were a lot of people that kept on riding horses after the automobile was invented.” This has become my stock response to the nastiest of these customers.

There is a slight part of me that admires someone who can live free of the internet, but on the other hand, we are twenty years into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, these people are being left behind. I think the key to not being left behind is to remain a student for life.

I understand that some things are unchangeable and cannot be improved upon. In general though, I’m for making a task easier, simpler, and more efficient.

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