Efficiency is not effectiveness

People mistake efficiency with effectiveness.

From the Oxford Online Dictionary, the definition of efficient is:


Pronunciation: /ɪˈfɪʃ(ə)nt/


  • 1. (of a system or machine) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense: more efficient processing of information
    [in combination] preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource: an energy-efficient heating system
  • 2. (of a person) working in a well-organized and competent way: an efficient administrator

And the definition of effective:


Pronunciation: /ɪˈfɛktɪv/


  • 1. successful in producing a desired or intended result: effective solutions to environmental problems

Let’s think of jumping in the car to go on a journey. If the car was efficient it would “achieve maximum productivity with minimum of wasted effort or expense”. It would be efficient if it covered the distance with the minimum use of fuel.

The journey would only be effective if it was “successful in producing a desired or intended result”. So if we got lost and ended up somewhere other than our desired destination then the journey is not effective.

Efficiency is a nice to have in comparison with effectiveness. If we get in the car and arrive at our desired destination then it is good if the fuel usage of that journey is efficient. But who, after ending up in the middle of nowhere, completely lost, has ever said to their fellow travellers, “Well at least we didn’t use much petrol to get to … well … wherever we are.”?

So if we are not being effective we should ignore efficiency until we are. Then of course we could turn to efficiency as a possible next focus.

If we are not doing what we are supposed to for the public, we should never try to remove waste.

Effective first, only then efficient.



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