The English language provides us multiple opportunities to compare and contrast. Efficient vs effective is yet another.
When I think of efficient, there is a sense that a minimum is done to reach a maximum output. Or a minimum is put in to get a maximum output. Our car gas mileage can be efficient. “We get 40 miles to the gallon” a car company can exclaim.
Production lines can package 100 or more packages per minute and the items are packed by robots. When viewing this production line based on the wages paid to people to operate the line, the wages are low (a minimum) with the output (# of packages packed) high.
But what about effective?
Being effective is much more elusive. You are less able to quantify. Effective is a much more relevant term with respect to human action or activity. And it is much harder to design and sustain.
Think of effective as a byproduct of alignment. When you have a goal and then your actions help get you to the desired goal. When the effort you put in gets you to the place you wanted to be at.
When evaluating effectiveness, there is no concept of minimum input or maximum output. Many times, it takes a lot of work to be effective. Big concepts, small details, and humans all mixed together in a pot trying to reach a given goal. Lots of variables that could change over time.
You can feel and see when a series of actions have led to the realization of a goal. Those actions were effective. You can also, more clearly, see when a series of actions did not lead to an intended goal.
The goals reached are never judged as being a “maximum” nor an “optimum” point given the constraints. The goals reached are markedly different then where you started from and that is all that counts. The steps needed to become more effective can be both messy and unclear during the journey.
To judge if something is efficient, simply ask how much of an input is needed and what is the output being produced. An efficient process is also repeatable.
To judge if something is effective, first ask what is the goal and what were the conditions before effort and actions were started. Then see where you are today and compare before and after to begin to understand if what was done has been effective.
As I continue to age, being effective is much harder then being efficient, more challenging to accomplish, and infinitely more rewarding. Becoming more effective in our lives is a great step in evolving towards being more human.