Forget Being Effective, Be Efficacious

Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the scene in the classic movie Spinal Tap, in which Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel utters the immortal words, “These go to 11” about his beloved Marshall Amp.

“It’s one louder,” he intones.


As foolish as Nigel appears, he is making an important philosophical point. He is seeking the maximum total benefit from his amp and for his fans in the audience. In short, he is striving to be efficacious. This desire, to seek the maximum total benefit for a customer, supersedes in my view our desire to be effective – seeking to produce a benefit or result for a customer.

The problem is that if you are focusing on just being effective (seeking a benefit/result), there could be a perception on the part of a customer and temptation on the part of a consultant to see fixed price agreements as a way to maximize your profit and not on your customer’s profit. Focusing on efficacy (seeking maximum total benefit) removes this perception and temptation.

Therefore, I humbly submit a change to the PKF (professional knowledge firm) new business model equation:

Profitability = Intellectual capital X Price X Efficaciousness

As an aside to those of you still mired in the efficiency v. effectiveness debate: you are now behind by two generations in thinking!

Even among the VeraSage zealots, I am sure that there are those of you who believe I am taking this debate of semantics to the nth degree. I am, but I am just being efficacious.


  1. Ed,

    This is brilliant. I’ve long preferred the word “efficacious,” which means “having the power to produce a desired effect.” (Viagra is efficacious, and this word is used mostly in pharma and medical circles).

    But you’ve turned it outward to customer profit, even more than effectiveness. It’s almost like a Baker’s Dozen–that little extra that adds tremendous value (whether it’s TQS, an experience, or a transformation).

    It’s funny, because I had dinner with Daryl Golemb the other night, and he’s questioning his value, especially in these tough economic times. “Am I adding enough value for the price I’m charging?” What an incredible question, and it’s all about efficacy, as you explain it here.

    I totally accept the modification to the PKF Business Model Equation, so consider this an addendum to my books!

    How any one can still be mired in efficiency after thinking about this deeply continues to amaze me. Maybe that’s why only a small minority of companies and firms truly inspire us.

    Excellent knowledge creep my friend!

  2. Thanks, Ron! I am honored by your comment,

    I am curious if others have any thoughts.

  3. Daryl Golemb says:

    Is it a debate of semantics, or true forward thinking? I applaude your use of words that matter Ed. Over dinner, I said to Ron that the Verasage conference along with recent customer conversations was leading me to believe that efficacy was the PKF “next practices”.

    To stir the airline model debate further, efficacy is the question to the customer “where do we sit on your plane?” It is outward thinking and customer focused. The traditional airline model use of the question “where do they sit on our firm’s plane” is secondary and mostly intellectual. Asking a customer where they would like to sit on our plane is arrogant and blocks the process for scoping out our value to the customer. If pricing was determined based on only this question, efficacy would fail.

    I think I have the meaning now. I’ve used it a sentence three times. 🙂

  4. Great comment Daryl. I, too, am starting to have reservations about the airplane model. The problem is, it does resonate with CPAs not as far along with Value as you are.

    As for semantics, as we now say, “All change is linguistic,” since changing the conversation starts with different words than conjure different images.

    Great thoughts here, I hope others chime in!

  5. Matthew Tol says:


    Having had the pleasure of discussing “whose plane” we’re on with Daryl at our meeting and then having taken a couple of my people through the thinking, I am now a firm believer in the concept which holds (still using the plane example) that we need to ask our customers where they want us to sit on their plane. This resonates fully with the idea of service and delivery of value as they want it – not as we perceive it to be. And is this not the true concept of efficaciousness?

    Maybe we should use the model of a rowing crew – to be as smooth and successful as possible, we all need to be aware of the strengths and skills of each member in the boat – if we are all trying to do different things that are not aligned with the end goal, we end up going in circles. The customer is the cox – they set the course. They are also the stroke – establishing the rate at which we all “put in” together. We’re part of the crew who works with them to accomplish their goals. We can also be the coach.

    Interested in your feedback!

  6. Sorry for the delay.

    I am still having trouble embracing the customer facing question, where do they want us to sit on their plane. Could they not say, first class, but only want to pay us coach? Perhaps I am not getting it.

    The other example I have used is sherpa. I like the idea that it is the customers journey to the summit and we are there to do the heavy lifting and assist them up to the summit.

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