Summary of The Paradox of Efficiency

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The Paradox of Efficiency summary
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The human fixation on efficiency comes at great costs, many of them hidden, says historian Edward Tenner. He draws on evidence that spans centuries, cultures and industries to argue for a new approach. Inefficiency – when deliberate, informed and imaginative – would often serve humanity better, the eloquent historian explains. Learn about the approach he dubs “inspired inefficiency” and how it can work for your organization.

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Historian Edward Tenner examines how technological change affects culture.

 

Summary

History teaches that efficiency can be dangerous – even lethal.

Efficiency achieves “more for less.” It involves maximizing what you glean from a product, resource, action or endeavor. Today, advancing technologies are often the levers of efficiency, but history bears warnings about efficiency’s risks.

Take the example of the potato. In 19th-century Ireland, this “miracle” vegetable nourished a thriving population. But Ireland’s efficient Lumper potato contained a hidden danger: The crop was genetically homogeneous. So when a blight from South America struck one plant, it quickly spread and destroyed the entire crop, wiping out a vital food source. A famine gripped the land. One million people starved to death, while two million more were forced to emigrate.

In the modern world, efficient innovations often prove counterproductive or deceptive – or can result in missed opportunities.

Efficiency tools can, in fact, make life less efficient. Take, for example,


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