The Forgotten Ideal Of Efficiency

A long time ago while I was in my first year of college, I learned quite a lot about efficiency as it relates to computer programming and automation.  Since the advent of computers, life as we know it continues to advance in efficiency.  Efficiency is of course, getting what you want as quickly as possible with the least amount of work/cost/etc.

So, from my standpoint, being that I try to be as practical and efficient as possible (it doesn’t always happen), it’s quite obvious to see that when people around me are exceedingly inefficient, it tends to annoy me.  Take for example my recent visit to the grocery store.  Not only are the cashiers notoriously inefficient, they constantly ignore me with their backs turned while at the same time, engaging in mindless conversations with each other.  But believe it or not, on this particular visit, it was a fellow customer that put my limits to the ultimate test.

I was on my way to the water dispensing machine to fill up two 1-gallon jugs.  By the way, 30¢ a gallon is very inefficient when compared to the water I drink which comes free from a well.  I’m content with well water, but Angie will only drink bottled water at a cost of 30¢ a gallon.

Another fellow customer decided to leave her cart in the middle of the aisle I was trying to get through on my way to the water machine.  But instead of simply leaving her cart in the middle of the aisle, or preferably, on the side of the aisle, this customer (whom I will refer to as the cart lady) placed her cart at a 90-degree angle dead-center in the middle of the aisle.

A store employee blocked the opposite end of the aisle with a cart loaded to the ceiling of boxes, of which were now being unloaded and placed one-at-a-time on the floor.  For some reason, the box he needed to stock the shelves with was placed at the bottom.  I was now trapped in the grocery store, and the only chance of escape was to try and get past the cart lady.

“Excuse me.” I said.

There was no response whatsoever from the cart lady.  Several awkward moments passed as cart lady stood stoic with her cart in front of her as if she were a troll blocking a bridge.  She was wasting my time.  Precious moments of time were now wastefully flying out the window.  I might add that extremely inefficient (and/or inconsiderate) people have a tenancy to only make their presence known when I’m in a huge hurry.

“Excuse me.” I said politely, only a little louder this time.

Again, almost as if nothing happened, the cart lady continued to stand there.  When she finally did look up from her long gaze into her empty cart to see me doing everything I could to keep my cool, she moved her cart.  An inch.  I’m no rocket scientist, but an inch of clearance probably isn’t going to be enough for me to squeeze myself and a shopping cart through.  A foot or two, perhaps, but an inch would be some kind of magic trick.

“Get out of my way, you stupid fucker.” would have been my next statement, but Angie called me on my cell phone and asked what was taking so long.

I told Angie in a hushed voice that I was stuck waiting for some lady to move her cart out of the way so that I could get her water.  Suddenly out of nowhere, she moved her cart clear across to one side of the aisle, giving me enough room to drive a small car through.  It seems that involving a third party, even by phone was enough leverage to get the lady to move her cart out of my way.

As I was filling the water jugs, it occurred to me that folks who are employed as industrial efficiency experts really have an easy job that never ends.  For example, when a company decides that it is inefficient in some way, they call in an expert and pay them enormous amounts of money.  The expert then goes around and educates the employees about how they can do their jobs more efficiently by not talking, taking shorter breaks, not going to the bathroom, breathing, etc.

What the management doesn’t realize is that the experts have a stranglehold on their company, because as long as the expert is present, things run in an exceptionally efficient manner.  Once the expert is paid-up, the expert leaves for their next assignment, and things return to the way they always were.  I know this because I worked at a company once who hired a team of these experts over and over again.

And it dawned on me!  Why are we trying to teach efficiency in the work force once folks fall into inefficient patterns, when we should be teaching these valuable skills in grade school, so that as we progress into adulthood, we wouldn’t have to be faced with so many inefficient people slowing down our day-to-day lives like the cart lady did?

One Comment

  • Harvey L. Slatin

    Very interesting artile! I was reminded of the contribution of revered efficiency experts callled upon to do their stuff during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The gurus came up with the brilliant idea of savings when it was recommended that businesses retain the envelopes they received in the mail for future use as note paper. I hope that other ingenious suggestions were as well thought out.

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