Newton delivered the dominating formula to describe effectiveness in the agricultural and industrial age:

Work = Force x Distance

The more force I apply, the more ‘work’ I get done, hence the more effective I am. The more the distance I use, the more effective I become as well (though this approach might only appeal to a physicist). All this work accumulates into the power that we can perform or generate: because power = work delivered over time.

Where in the past it was crucial to keep the work as low as possible (also because the force was limited and scarce) and therefore rely on longer distances or self-sufficiency, eventually work became the sole purpose of our society: the more work is done, the better off our society became at large. The effect of all this? More power! Especially those in possession of force, or who were quicker than others, could get more work done and therefore outperform others. They became more powerful and effective, and therefore they ruled.

If you want to increase work, and at such become more effective, the force can be increased most easily. Because who really wants to increase the distance? That would cost time, and limiting time is equally crucial if you want to increase power. Where in the agricultural age access to force applied by humans and animals were determining effectiveness, in the industrial age the focus was on increasing force through machines  – machines are most effective, they dramatically increase force and reduce time.

But when eventually the creation of the work reached its peak (the force applied by machines) and we turned to reduce time more and more: the efficiency creeps in, and it is still dominating the improvement of power up to today. In order to maximize the effect of the work done, our society and businesses turned to maximize efficiency. That’s why the formula of the industrial business society is more like this:

Effectiveness = Means x Efficiency

And that’s why here industrial managers are in charge and they focus on what they can do best: increase efficiency!

In the meantime also processes, systems, technologies and distances, just about everything you can improve through efficiency, have reached their peak as well. An increase in efficiency is marginal these days, so some turn to brute force again, or they try to find other means…

And something else happened: we are leaving the industrial age and now enter the knowledge age. Not only the industrial means but foremost the available intellectual means are influencing the effectiveness. The means are now enriched with increased knowledge, so it’s not efficiency that is crucial, but the access to this knowledge.
That’s why the formula of the knowledge society should be:

Effectiveness = Means x Access

So the one that advances today, is the one with access. The dot-com boomers and shrewd bankers understood this and reacted like their industrial ancestors  – now they increase the access to increase the effect!
Because to increase effectiveness by only increasing the knowledge (the mean) is cumbersome and time-consuming, so it’s way easier to increase the efficiency, hum, the access! Access is about being smart, not knowledgeable.
The fact that access led to rewarding by huge bonuses and incentives, at the expense of the knowledgeable and working people, just seemed the result of the laws of nature: ‘smart’ people just didn’t care, it always has been like this, or?  Effectiveness is for them is the biggest bang for the buck!

Unfortunately, these modern business advancers, like their industrial forefathers, have reached the end of their advancement – in the meanwhile, everybody is getting smart, thanks to the internet!
What remains is the option to increase the effectiveness by turning to the means again, to the people carrying the knowledge and intellect, the people that work for a company and to those people, for whom the company is working. By focussing on humans, societies and companies can tap into those resources again who by far are not depleted, they were just neglected.

So if companies want to tap into the human potential to increase the effectiveness of what they do, they have to focus on the human side of what they do and how they do it. Here new thinking can help, one that is different from the thinking that drove the efficiency up, but one that will drive the creativity and imagination up. It needs design thinking and empathy. The challenge here is to leave the Newtonian thinking behind, which relates a logical cause to an effect and which is based on deductive reasoning. To increase the effectiveness, we need to start to imagine, to design.

If organizations can embed this thinking in whatever they do, and focus on the human, then they can embrace the challenges of the post-industrial society, where economic progress is related to the effect a proposition has on the individual. In this experience economy, you have to focus on the human, focus on making the right things, rather than making the things right. To do that you need knowledge and empathy, being smart and efficient is not enough.

That’s why the formula for the design thinking economy is:

Effectivity = Means x Focus

And – do you have a focus yet?

August 2010.

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