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Why women need an inefficiency drive at work to be successful

Kieran Flanagan CCO, Speaker and Author of Selfish, Scared and Stupid The Impossible Institute

Efficiency is perhaps the word that best represents the way work early in this century. We began with an industrial revolution model and then added an extra layer of technology on top to create even greater levels of ‘efficiency’. We streamlined processes and production lines, hired ‘efficiency experts’ and analysed how we spent our time, down to the minute. Because in most cases we were selling time. The cost of our businesses and our products came down to materials and how many people and how long it took them to make it.

Yet the model has changed. Technology has altered many production lines to the point they are efficient regardless of human beings. Cost controllers have cut costs and made the business structures as efficient as they can. And efficiency has become a must on every resume.

Yet efficiency is not alway the answer either. In a world where our ability to ‘out-think’ is becoming more important than our ability to get things done efficiently (because we have machines to do that) we need to foster a little inefficiency. If we wish to innovate, invent and influence and we should if we are to provide value then a little less action and a little more concentration is called for.

So how do we break our automatic efficiency cycle?


Do stop ‘doing’ all the time

There is a lot of mindless doing in corporations and businesses today. We are all obsessed with being busy. Ask most people how they are and their automatic response now seems to be ‘busy’. Wow, I remember when the response was ‘good’. If we are to break this busy cycle we must carve out a little time for ruminating.

Do think in questions

Retrain your brain to stop automatically accepting statements as fact. Instead stop and remind yourself to think in questions.This is important as statements by nature pre-suppose solutions whereas questions open up possible solutions. We were once working with a client who requested we design an eye-catching shelf sticker. We were not sure any sticker could be that eye-catching so we asked why. The answer was they lacked shelf space and were invisible on it. Instead we extended the product range so we built their in store presence and by doing so doubled sales. Less efficient from a time point of view but much more efficient from a fiscal one. That is the power of thinking in questions.

Do build in thinking time

Ladies time to think is not a luxury, it is a necessity if we are to thrive at work in the future. Always doing is a new type of laziness called autopilot. Being on auto-pilot is great for accomplishing huge volume but no so great for breakthrough quality. So do not feel guilty about a little time with your feet up at work. After all sitting under an apple tree can prove rather useful, just ask Mr. Newton.

Do take a moment

It sounds like such a simple thing to do and yet so often we are too busy to do it. To stop and think about what we are doing but most importantly why we are doing it and whether or not this is the right thing to be doing and the right way to be doing it. If we take micro-moments to run through these questions we can avoid doing tasks that achieve very little but fill in time.

Do be outcome not process driven

The notion of controlling how a result happens is rapidly becoming archaic. As our work and personal lives blend we need to redefine success. Having someone sat at a desk from 9 to 6 is an old fashioned notion of a good employee. Today we need to judge ourselves (and our staff) on our contribution to the thinking, to the end result to the culture and to the happiness of our customers.


Do not judge effectiveness by head hours

If the only measure you have for yourself or your staff, or the predominant one is time and how many head hours they put on a spreadsheet you are missing a trick. Time is one facet that denotes a great employee or team member but it is a leftover marker from the Industrial Revolution model. Judge things beyond time to gauge worth perhaps customer and other staff feedback, actual results, targets met and exceeded, quality of thinking, and the ability to bring new ideas to the table. All of these things can indicate a successful and valuable employees.

Do not work for works sake

Doing volumes of work to demonstrate value is crazy. Not only is it false efficiency, ‘see how much I got done’, it is too much for us all to take in. We are all over-loaded with information and the new skill we require is simplicity. The ability to make something succinct, to provide clarity and to make it easy is one we all need to develop. So stop working so hard and begin working at simplifying and getting rid of superfluous information and processes.

Do not punish efficient people by giving them more and more

This is a challenging one, but if we want to hold good people we need to stop this as much as we can. In my time in a large corporate business I found myself overloaded with work compared to everyone around me. At its worst I had twelve times the amount of work on my plate as a combined 5 other people. To top it all off I was only working 4 days! While on one hand it is flattering and you get to feel competent on the other it is unsustainable. No one can do that indefinitely without becoming exhausted or angry or resentful.

Do not just do what you have always done

For many women, particularly mums we get a system going which allows us to knock it out of the park day in, day out. We get so good at our routines that we get not so good at deliberately breaking them. Yet breaking patterns and routines is essential to creativity and thinking differently, both of which are much needed skills of right now.

Do not walk around on autopilot

Autopilot while a very useful cognitive ability is not a great business one. Our brains do well with this nifty trick as we learn to do repetitive things almost unconsciously. The problem is this capability sometimes becomes our work default in our pursuit of efficiency. Which means we stop thinking, rethinking and coming up with new ways to do things better. Instead we need to take control of the wheel and fly our own plane to the destination of our choosing.

Jumping cartoon

Inefficiency can be a useful tool for the new ‘thinking’ age we find ourselves in. Our ability to rethink processes, products and the ways in which we connect with our customers will be more important than ever before. Taking time to question what we are doing and why we are doing is no longer a luxury, it is a wise move.

Busy women with multitasking ability particularly can find themselves being automatically efficient and need to put measures in place to have some time out from doing. Time to ponder and reflect, time to re-group and reassess. This time does not have to be long periods in meditation. It can be a minute in between meetings, a moment in the morning or afternoon. It can mean taking time to each lunch and talk to a co-worker about your ideas. Now to a busy and efficient person these things can seem like time wasters but in this new paradigm time is not the be all and end all.

So take a moment to rethink your attitude towards efficiency and enjoy that moment staring at the ceiling it just may be the most important thing you do all day.

More expert advice about Career Success as a Manager

Photo Credits: Sergey Nivens/; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Kieran FlanaganCCO, Speaker and Author of Selfish, Scared and Stupid

Few people understand what makes people ‘buy’ or ‘buy in’ better than Kieran Flanagan. For over twenty years, Kieran Flanagan has been a transformational leader in the creative industries. A Behavioral Researcher & Strategist, she is an auth...

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