Photo by Jimmy Ofisia on Unsplash

Hey Folks,

If you are given an option to choose between Efficiency Vs Robustness, then what will you choose..? I know its a bit tricky questions and some of you might think that :- Hmm,, well it depends on what we are looking at ?..If this is the thought, which has come to your mind then its fair to have such thoughts and its okee to think that you might not want everything to be perfectly efficient. You must be wondering why I am saying so ..?

It is human nature to want to reduce the world around us to simple rules that give us a sense of understanding and control. Its something like this :

When “A” happens, you should do “B”. If you see “C”, respond by implementing “D”

Unfortunately whilst this logic is true for some situations but in other situations it becomes counterproductive or even dangerous especially when it comes to manage a complex environment. Systems thinking and the Cynefin framework are mental models that highlight that the world can be very complex and unpredictable and just because there is a view in hindsight about the root causes of a particular situation, does not mean the same lessons can successfully apply to the future.

I was reminded of this in a recent podcast interview on the Mind the Product podcast with Margaret Heffernan. In the interview Margaret highlights the difference between Complex vs Complicated situations (from the Cynefin Framework)

… We live in a world that is complicated and complex. So let me reproduce what has been spoken in the aforesaid Podcast:-

# – 1. Complicated things are linear, very cause and effect, think of them like an assembly line. You can control those things because you can control and influence all of the inputs, and so you can predict the output. They are systems that are well honed by efficiency.

# – 2. Complex environments are quite different. They have lots and lots of factors influencing them, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. and so what that means is that while there may be patterns within these complicated systems, they don’t repeat themselves predictably. It also means that very small things can have a gigantic impact. The other thing about them is that because they are so dynamic, often expertise cannot keep up because the system is changing too fast. If you try to force these systems to become efficient, a it doesn’t work and B you eliminate all of your margin for adaptation and response.

When you apply efficiency to a complex system beyond a point you make them more dangerous.

It is really important in any organisations / companies or for a products to understand what system you are in (right now). One system you want to manage to be efficient, one system you want to manage to be robust, that is where there is a margin for surprise.

A great example is whey you fly, lots of complicated systems such as checking your bag, thermal scanning etc where efficiency are achieved through better technology. Once you get into the air there are lots of forces acting on the plane which are inherently unpredictable… the consequence of this unpredictability is that you build them to be robust, for instance running 4 engines on different operating systems, but they are robust so that if one of them fails. The impact of a tiny mistake.

You would never want to get onto a plane designed for efficiency — see what has happened to the Boeing 737MAX. Do read this article for the holistic understanding of the this concept.

Our bias as humans is to force things towards a complicated frame, making them ever more efficient. If this frame is misdiagnosed, and you actually find yourself in a complex frame, the actions implemented may well be speeding your established business or products towards disaster.


Let me know what you think? I’d love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.

Get in touch… — JOE’s LIFE SKILLS LAB/Joe Sehrawat

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