Friday, February 17, 2012

Efficiency and friction.

Since the beginning of mankind some 200,000 years ago (or 6,000 years ago if you are a radical-right Republican like the current front-runner Rick Santorum) humanity has been on a quest for efficiency.

Our prognathous ancestors found, probably over the course of a couple millennia that it was more efficient to kill animals with a spear than with a blunt instrument, a club or a rock. So spears became all the rage. Likewise, wind-power was harnessed as being superior to rowing. Cattle were domesticated, and equines. Agriculture flourished, then machines, then computers all in an endless quest for every greater efficiency.

The opposite, I'm told, of efficiency is friction. When friction, in whatever form is overcome, efficiency is gained.

But the trick with attaining ever-greater levels of efficiency, like the trick with all things is stopping before efficiency gets out of hand. A good example of this is our modern notion of highway speed limits. It would be more efficient in terms of getting from point A to point B to let cars travel at they 140 miles-per-hour they are capable of. However, the rise in accidents (in this case the friction of crashes and pile-ups) out-weighs the gains.

What's happened in our industry, whatever you want to call it, Advertising, Marketing, Marketing Services, Story-telling, Product development, and what's happened in the world as we struggle through the fourth year of the Great Depression 2.0 is that efficiency has outstripped friction in huge and fundamental ways.

We can strip factories of their employees, strip the Earth of its sustaining force, strip entire swaths of entire continents and entire populations of their humanity to produce things faster, cheaper and better than ever before in the history of our planet. There has been no friction--ecological or environmental friction, rights of man friction, or simple common sense friction that has slowed our Adam Smith-ean vector toward the perfect, most highly-efficient capitalist system.

In our business specifically, we have seen the "mature" and more-highly-paid wrung from our midst. We have seen off-shoring. We have seen the disappearance of downtime. The withering away for production dollars all in the name of holding company efficiency.

The friction that used to be encouraged in agencies--the time to do a proper job, a gentle treatment of the people doing the work (not just people working in holding companies) and acceptance of extreme and sometimes volatile personalities has largely disintegrated. Now we are hourly employees and earn accolades for time-sheet compliance and even-keelness not the integrity of our product.

This is a lot, I know, for a Friday. Especially a Friday before a long, efficient weekend (a made up holiday--a sop to the working poor).

So, I'll stop now.

Writing this blog isn't at all efficient.


bob hoffman said...

Prognathous. Sheesh.

george tannenbaum said...

Well, you work with them, you should know the word...

Tim said...

I missed a deadline this morning because I was guilty of tweaking. So I'm feeling extra frictiony today. Kinda like it. Just so you know, the dawn of humanity happened 50,000 years ago with the development of fried food.