From Efficient to Effective

by Antonio Dias

Efficiency, at best, in my most charitable moments, I would recognize as an accumulation of tips and attitudes that make things work well during times when expected practices are useful. At such times to be effective is at least in some degree to be efficient.

The key here is in recognizing what it means to be useful….

So long as things are “working,” and the ways things are customarily done tend to promote life and expand, or at least keep apace with the challenges that are at work to undermine the possibilities of life; then, there is no problem with efficiency. Of course this is not a condition we are accustomed to, nor a situation that we have ever been in in our lives.

This is what makes efficiency so fraught. This is why following its guidance is so pernicious. It sends us rushing down a path. Bad enough even with a good path, but horrible when it’s a path like the one we are on!

So, if to be effective is to be useful and to be useful is to ultimately not be destructive, then this is how we have gotten to the point where any acceptance of efficiency as a guide is just a trap.

At times like this we need to become aware of the differences between inefficiency that could be construed as thoughtlessness and sloth, from inefficiency that results from mindfulness and a suspension of conditioned responses.

The former has been the bug-a-boo of mechanization. It is a symptom brought on by the disintegration that mechanization, and every other form of commodification and chasing after Ends, has brought about. A disintegrated individual is bound to be afflicted with thoughtlessness and sloth. They are dis-eased! But clamping down on their symptoms only worsens the situation, like an out-of-control autoimmune reaction.

The only way we can get beyond our present and longstanding habits of disintegration and disease is to lose this fixation on efficiency and suspend, and become aware, of the way our own discomfort around inefficiency feeds our continual entrapment.

Just as it makes sense to be efficient when what we do is working well, the only way to get past a condition and situation in which we are trapped in dysfunction is to let go of efficiency and find our way past the discomfort this brings on.

At times like this, to be effective may not be the same as being inefficient, but it does have something to do with an attitude of a-ficiency! To not be swayed by the imperatives of urgency and the intoxications of ill-considered action for its own sake. Only then will we be able to forge our way towards being effective in any way that is not bound up tightly by futility.

This is a point where we get confused. We conflate the discomfort we feel, as we begin to abandon the habits of efficiency, with being caught within futility. In fact, what we are responding to is that in this space we have begun to carve out for our energy and attention, by dropping even a scrap of the efficiency imperative, is to begin to feel just how fraught by futility our habitual path has been! If we can maintain ourselves as we pass through this disorientation, we will soon begin to see our mistake and realize the font of joy and energy available to us as we actually leave futility behind.

The transition is an act of reorientation. This cannot be an intellectual process or a coercive process of any kind. We cannot be convinced of this. We cannot be taught, or led, to this point. We have to experience it.

In early aviation it was found that the disorientation brought about by poor visibility, a pilot’s inability to see and orient themselves in relation to a visible horizon due to darkness or clouds, was deadly. Even if they had the instrumentation in front of them that would help them maintain normal flight, the experience of disorientation was overwhelming. Unless, they had a countervailing experience of overriding their habitual responses to these situations and developed new habits that allowed them to use the tools they had available to them. This is why the earliest simulators were developed and why flight training began to include time flying without external visual cues. It was found that only a controlled, gradual process of reintegration of one’s habits and instincts within this strange and foreign environment, could get someone to be able to handle the reality of such a situation when it confronted them “out of the blue.”

In such a case a first step is to become, and become comfortable with, an extreme loss of a customary level of efficiency. It is certainly more efficient, when in clear skies and safe conditions, to fly by “the seat of the pants.” Putting on a hood, or getting into a Link Trainer, means loosing all that customary proficiency and having to stumble along and relearn everything! Later, once the process of reorientation has taken place, some new sorts of efficiencies develop, and these can be useful. But an insistence on maintaining a previous proficiency when the need is to drastically reorient one’s self is a recipe for disaster.

The process of letting go of familiar, even if they are obviously or increasingly apparently harmful, efficiencies requires that we trust. This trust will in part be in relation to others, but ultimately it is a process of discovering and developing a trust in one’s own organism. Both forms of trust are now in tatters. We are enveloped by a torn fabric in which our trust in others is often misplaced and in which our disintegrated state has us at odds with the fonts of sincerity within our organism and waiting for us to find it, to acknowledge it. Out re-integration requires that we reorient our selves so that we can reestablish a relationship with trust, internally and externally. This is a work of compassion.

One of the first steps is letting go of any bondage to misplaced efficiency. In our diseased and intoxicated state of disorientation we cling to all the wrong cues. Chasing effectiveness along the dysfunctional paths of efficiency. Driven to strive out of the delusion that we have control, and that we will arrive where we intend to go, instead of where the tangle of unintended consequences leaves us trapped and suspended in futility.

This transition, this reorientation, takes patience. It can only happen within the context of compassion, for our selves and for others. On the surface, it appears that we are abandoning so much of what we are accustomed to having. It takes a calm clarity to be able to sort out that it is these things, concepts, practices, and habits of action and thought; that have abandoned us! The illusions of utility that mask their destructive violence only appears to affect others much of the time. It has an equally destructive effect on us all. Unless we can recognize that, they remain difficult to abandon. It takes an ongoing experience of the joys of disillusion to break our old habits and allow us to see through the traps they hold us in.

We are conditioned to rush past our dysfunctions and hurtle ourselves in an ever increasing frenzy after further efficiencies. Our muttered wish is that the next time we will find a “magic bullet.”

Letting go of all this is central to taking the first steps beyond our wished for efficiency to the discovery of just how effective we can be. Beyond all the illusory clap-trap we are “giving up” lies the only possibility to actually find true utility integrated with meaning.

No one can convince us of this. It does not come through any act of following, any act of coercion.

Our habits of efficiency, no matter what else efficiency might bring in other circumstances, holds us within a trap of violence originating at the point where we coerce our selves into leaving what is here in front of us at this moment and chasing after its short-cuts.

Our organism whispers that this is true each time we give it the littlest chance….