Joyful efficiency

I follow Nassim Taleb because he understands things like this:


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Effortful efficiency, he asserts, kills the joy in things. This is half true. When people talk about efficiency they usually conflate two distinct ideas.

There is the efficiency found in removing needless things. This type of efficiency breeds joy. This is the efficiency of simplicity, in minimalism, in clarity. During the first few years into my time at Facebook, my team automated tasks that were repetitive, tedious, and frustrating. We built rules that allowed us to throw meaty portions of mindless work to the robots, allowing us to focus on purposeful decision making. That was an efficiency that increased joy.

Then there is the efficiency that crams more work into less time, more objects into less space, efficiency that mistakes more for better. The article that teaches you to ‘get more done’ before lunch, or during a meeting, or during sex. This is the efficiency of industrialization, of mediocritization, of standardization. During my last year at Facebook, my team was frequently solicited to perform statistical analyses of meaningless variables under the premise of eeking out a higher number here, a lower number there. Instead, most of the team left to do meaningful work.

Doing things faster kills joy. Doing less things increases it.

Toxic efficiency adds process. Joyful efficiency always removes it.

2 Comments

  1. mike

    Even if you’re not enamored with a task, isn’t it possible to enjoy the efficiency itself?

    Increasing efficiency is always a goal for me at work, especially with marking assignments and tests. Sometimes I use the extra time to focus on other jobs, but sometimes I just play video smash brothers. I’m not sure where to draw the line between toxic and joyful.

    Reply

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