Efficient and inefficient

Many of the most popular brands of children’s toys in the U.S. are wooden toys manufactured by fairly small companies. Compared to mass-produced plastic toys from China, they are inefficient to produce and more expensive to ship. Quality and design is the focus, not speed or quantity.

American-made tools: The websites of popular American toolmakers such as Snap On and Craftsman include many statements about non-negotiable product quality and safety but make no mention of efficiency. Production of American products often maximizes quality and safety while giving much less attention to efficiency of production.

U.S. health care: The delivery of health care in the United States is perhaps the best example of disregard for efficiency in exchange for safe, high-quality output. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, „about 30 percent of health spending in 2009 – roughly $750 billion – was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems.“

The reasons for this waste are complex, but the underlying logic is that in the health care sector (and in most other industries), Americans view a safe, comfortable, and positive output as the primary goal of their activities; therefore, efficiency is often ignored.

U.S. military: The U.S. military spends vast sums of money to achieve the strategic goals of the nation. For example, it costs the U.S. an estimated $1 million dollars to outfit a single soldier in Afghanistan for a year. The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion dollars fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The key focus of military operation is achieving the strategic objective (or output); efficiency and costs are rarely discussed. If they are discussed, they are always secondary to achieving the mission.

Federal hiring process: President Obama signed a memorandum in February 2010 ordering the Office of Personnel Management to streamline the federal hiring process. Although implementing this order will vary across different agencies, the act symbolizes a concerted effort to add efficiency to what was previously an incredibly slow and ineffective process.

Hotel chains: Many companies cannot focus exclusively on output while neglecting efficiency. Hotel chains have started to encourage customers to conserve water (thereby increasing efficiency) by re-using towels and not changing linens every day. These campaigns are often marketed as „eco-friendly.“  They are aimed at lowering costs and increasing the company’s efficiency. The output must be of good and uniform quality, but if the company does not operate efficiently, then it will not be profitable.

Assembly line: With the assembly line Henry Ford revolutioned the automotive industry and the way products are produced in almost every industry. This new manufacturing process made building cars more efficient. Because of the increase in efficiency, the cost to produce a car went down and when production costs were lowered, so was the retail price of the cars. Today, almost all products – from faucets to airplanes – are produced in some form of assembly line.