A Rabbi argues for effectiveness over efficiency

Those who know me know I listen religiously to Rabbi Daniel Lapin on KSFO 560AM every Sunday from 1-4 pm.

He’s one of the most astute observers of human behavior, and even though I’m not Jewish, as he says, no matter what your faith “Everyone needs a rabbi, and for those who have no faith, you definitely need a rabbi.”

He’s written a fantastic book, Thou Shall Prosper, which I reviewed here.

Every Thursday, Rabbi Lapin sends out his Thought Tools, a short story that deals with various issues we face in our life, to which I highly recommend you subscribe.

I just finished reading his September 23rd Thought Tool, “Retreat to Advance.

As you’ve probably read, I’m involved in an intensive debate with Pat Lamb on the issue of efficiency vs. effectiveness.

I argue that knowledge workers work with their minds, which is an iterative process not subject to the rhythms and cadences of an assembly line.

For this reason, the “efficiency” metrics that are used in most PKFs—such as output per hour, realization, utilization, etc.—are a complete joke.

Knowledge workers aren’t machines.

Rabbi Lapin, I believe, would agree, given what he wrote in this thought-provoking Thought Tool:

Like all of us, I spend my day tackling challenges. Sometimes there’s a problem baffling me. Then I put it out of mind and retire for the night. Often in the early pre-dawn hours I will awaken and am instantly aware that I have had a creative thought breakthrough. Grabbing the pen and pad I always keep alongside my bed, and which I recommend as a vital business tool, I can hurriedly scrawl down the answer to the daunting problem from the day before.

Every time this happens I am amazed, yet it shouldn’t astound me. After all, this is one of those timeless truths of ancient Jewish wisdom. Human creativity thrives in an environment of thrust, retreat, and then thrust again. Work the problem, back off, and then return to the problem. It will yield more rapidly than it would in one long protracted push.

This is a physical parallel to a spiritual reality. Just as our bodies require sleep, so do our minds and souls. Creativity and productivity are enhanced by regular periods of withdrawal.

But where do I log this withdrawal on my timesheet? If I’m measured by output per hour I’ll feel like crap if I do this (and used to when I billed by the hour).

Isn’t it obvious that knowledge workers are different? They simply can’t run at 100% efficiency, day in and day out.

I’m completely baffled why this is so hard for some innovative leaders to understand.

I’d be grateful for your thoughts and input.


  1. I’m with the rabbi. Even the efficiency ‘experts’ couldn’t account for the vagaries of human behaviour in the earliest studies where performance improved simply because workers were being observed and for no other reason.
    If manual workers can be influenced so easily then trying to measure the output of knowledge workers in a scientific (?) way must surely not only be futile but counter productive.
    I’m not an expert in this field and have no particular axe to grind but my reading and observations leads me to agree with Ron on all counts.

  2. I’m in the process of founding an IT knowledge firm. I have set a long term goal: in 10 or 20 years I want to be able to stand in front a crowd and say that no one has ever done a timesheet nor have we ever billed a single hour of work.

    I’ve the KPI picked already which will be used. That may change as the team grows but but no timesheets ever!!

    Ron I appreciate your work and thoughtfulness!!

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