The English language provides us with multiple opportunities to compare and contrast. Efficient vs effective is yet another. Both describe (at a high level) a key characteristic of the process of getting to an end result. Two different ways to measure if we reached our goal.
When I think of efficiency, there is a sense that a minimum is done to reach maximum output. Or a minimum is put in to get maximum output. Our car’s gas mileage can be efficient. “We get 40 miles to the gallon” a car company can exclaim. It also is indisputable when it happens. There is a clear end result, that can be measured, that confirms a state of efficiency. This determination can be highly objective.
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 measure & quantify. Effective is a much more relevant term with respect to human action or activity. And it is much harder to design and sustain. While also being more subjective in determining whether it is true.
Think of effectiveness 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. Not necessarily because it was efficient (streamlined and quick) but rather because the effort made (no matter how difficult or painful it was) led to the goal or end state we wanted to see.
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. Making it counterintuitive to think that many effective efforts may not be efficient.
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 than where you started 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 quantity of output is being produced. An efficient process is also repeatable. And efficiency can be definitively measured.
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 than 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. Making effective more important to achieve than simply being more efficient.