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A Danger To Themselves And Others

“Efficient systems are dangerous to themselves and others” – John Gall

A new system is always established with the goal of outright solving, or at least mitigating, a newly perceived problem that can’t be addressed with an existing system. As long as the nature of the problem doesn’t change, continuously optimizing the system for increased efficiency also joyfully increases its effectiveness.

However, the universe being as it is, the nature of the problem is guaranteed to change and there comes a time where the joy starts morphing into sorrow. That’s because the more efficient a system becomes over time, the more rigid its structure and behavior becomes and the less open to change it becomes. And the more resistant to change it becomes, the more ineffective it becomes at achieving its original goal – which may no longer even be the right goal to strive for!

Eff vs Eff

In the manic drive to make a system more efficient (so that more money can be made with less effort), it’s difficult to detect when the inevitable joy-to-sorrow inflection point manifests. Most managers, being cost-reduction obsessed, never see it coming – and never see that it has swooshed by. Instead of changing the structure and/or behavior of the system to fit the new reality, they continue to tweak the original structure and fine tune the existing behaviors of the system’s elements to minimize the delay from input to output. Then they are confounded when (if?) they detect the decreased effectiveness of their actions. D’oh! I hate when that happens.

Thought Actual

  1. June 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    So is the key to not build overly efficient systems, or is the key to be able to quickly build, tear-down, and re-build efficient systems?

    • June 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Dave. My opinion, and it’s only an opinion, is not to build overly efficient systems in the first place. They should be loosely built and thus able to change gracefully over time. Tearing down and re-building efficient systems doesn’t scale well. It can be worth it for small systems, but not big ones, say, 1M lines of code and scads of external interfaces. “Quickly” doesn’t apply for big systems.

  1. May 17, 2013 at 10:40 am

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