• Akhila Balasubramaniam

Efficiency — Resilience balance

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

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When you see the buzzword "efficient", do you pause to think if it's necessarily better? Or by default, is it "more efficient = better"?

The idea of saving money, effort and resources seems appealing, but the context determines whether it is better or not.

What's the consequence of increased efficiency?

Efficiency is increased by eliminating redundancy. For instance, in a team, the manager can delegate tasks to ensure no two people are doing the same thing. Eliminating redundancy by delegation.

Consequently, this reduces the resilience of a system. A system here could mean a range of things a company, team, daily routine, lifestyle, gadgets. In this context, let's assume it could mean anything that you can expect to be efficient.

What is resilience?

It's the ability of a system to bounce back from a shock. If your hard disk crashes, and you have back up of the data on the cloud, your storage system is resilient. It's only going to take you some time to create another backup. You aren't stunted by the shock, because you focussed on resilience over efficiency.

It might've been more cost-effective to have just one copy of your data, but that would've made your storage situation vulnerable. Increasing redundancy prepares you for a crisis.

Sometimes, it takes a crisis like COVID-19, to assess how vulnerable our systems are. Within our households, we realised how crippled we are without help for food, domestic help, repair. Suddenly without any of those, our usual routine halts, and it takes some time to get back on track.

Even in our personal life, resilience plays an important role. If you rely on one person to play the role of an entire village, you are making your social life extremely vulnerable. With the slightest absence of that person, you're going to feel inadequate.

How to shift the focus towards resilience?

Amongst the plenty of ways to increase resilience, a simple relatable step is diversification. You might already be

  • Diversifying your investments

  • Maintaining backups for storage

Similarly, analyse every aspect of your life for vulnerabilities. Is any part of it dependent on a single person or a single object? Are you hinging on a loose contact point, if broken, will turn your life upside down? This holds good for personal relationships, professional connections, processes. Any system. Create diverse connections in those identified vulnerable areas.

Dumbledore, in fact, diversified his confidants. No one person knew all of his secrets, which made his schemes more resilient and impenetrable.

“I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.” - Albus Dumbledore

Does resilience have downsides?

Resilience is not an unambiguously good either. It enables a system to bounce back to its vitality and original form. But in some cases, the systems are obsolete and a shift in regime is much needed.

Let's say, you have old videos on VCR cassette. Rather than buying a VCR converter cable, you can shift your data to a hard disk. On the long run, you have to make the resilience-efficiency tradeoff.

What good is a resilient sexist society, a resilient toxic relationship, a resilient oppressive household? An extremely resilient system is unfavourable to any change. A system should be sufficiently resilient but not inflexible to a point where it is incapable of change.

Like extreme efficiency, extreme resilience is undesirable. It holds the system from transformation. When a transformation is due, the system must be allowed to be stirred.

This fine balance between efficiency and resilience is popularly known as the stability-sensitivity dilemma.

As one of my professors told,

"Treat any system like a relationship. It should be stable enough to be unperturbed by the small fights and sensitive enough to sense if it is toxic and break free from it."

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