New proof that efficiency follows effectiveness called; "elephant trails"

26 Aug, 2011
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Some time ago I saw an interview on a talk show that intrigued me. It kept me thinking and even to this date the topic discussed still puzzles me. In modern day organizations and markets more and more emphasis is placed on efficient behavior which should lead to better results and better ROI. Effective behavior is also sometimes mentioned, but way less often and it’s is not elaborated upon as much as efficiency. Maybe it’s because both nouns have two f’s and a lot of e’s, so people tend to forget about effectiveness?

In agile adoptions I have been part of, efficiency was something the business wanted to see from day one. Most of the time they want to see things like: team-goals, KPI’s, metrics and stuff like that. Of course that’s very important information because we need that sort of info to run our businesses in a sensible way, I understand that and even advocate it.
On the other hand I try too temper people in their drive for efficiency. I believe that people first need to learn to effectively work together, before they will be able to reach a next level towards better efficiency.

The talk show item gave me some new ammunition in discussing efficiency and effectiveness. It was about a thing called elephant trails. Elephant trails is the name for shortcuts people tend to take when walking along a pedestrian path. Take a look at these photo’s ( and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
So the funny thing is, that there first needs to be a path that leads us somewhere (effectiveness), before we see means to better adapt to this new context and take the more efficient route (efficiency). Hence if the context of the footpath wasn’t there to bring us effectively from a to b, we would have never thought about taking a more efficient route. Why we actually tend to walk along these paths I don’t know. If I found definite proof that Efficiency always follows effectiveness, I don’t know. But what I do know, is that this is a good way to explain the concepts and to discuss your route towards your goals.

Thanks to Jan-Dirk van der Burg for bringing this strange and interesting phenomenon to our attention.

PS, please do try and get your metrics in as soon as possible, just make sure to do it in a non-intrusive fashion towards your team members.


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