January 15, 2014

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Most of my adult life has been spent thinking about, studying, and applying the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness.  Starting in college, the field of Industrial Engineering appealed to me because of the chance to optimize processes and do things better.  The quest for quality always leaves room for improvement, and constantly striving to enhance a process appeals to me.  The additional appeal of data-driven decision making led me to my dual Masters degrees in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.  And in my current job, some of my most exciting days and most fulfilling moments are those days when we can use data to make informed decisions to improve the lives of faculty, staff, or students.  My colleagues joke with me that conversations about office procedures often start with me saying “why are we doing this?” or “why are we doing it this way?”  It is a blessing and a curse to never be satisfied with the status quo, and to always be looking for ways to do things better.  This attitude and mindset definitely carries with me into my karate life, both as a student and as an instructor, and I find this sentiment echoed in the 20th of Master Funakoshi’s Niju Kun, “Always create and devise.” 

A necessary part of this endeavor to do “better” is to answer the question – what does better mean in this context?  An article that came across my desk at work earlier this week that has me thinking about defining this problem in karate.  The article, “Doing the Right Things Right” discusses from an institutional context what is meant by effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right).  The importance of enhancing effectiveness before efficiency is also emphasized, and this makes perfect sense.  We could work tirelessly to try to figure out the best way (efficiency) to screw together two pieces of wood with a hammer, but it would be more effective to use a screwdriver.  The focus on effectiveness first and efficiency second is obviously essential.  This article also introduces the tool of Activity Based Analysis.  Considering the questions posed as part of this analysis, such as “Why are things done the way they are?” and “What would we change if we were starting from scratch?” have been integral to the way I think and approach problems at work and in training. 

To apply this same thinking to karate, we need to define the goals of our training.  Matt did a great job in his last post (Why I Train) talking about some of the common reasons for training in a martial art.  Each of these various motivations would bring with it different goals of training.  While there are certainly some overlapping goals (as well as objectives, strategies, and tactics) among several of these categories, it would be impossible to effectively and efficiently focus all of our effort into doing all of these things.  With such limited training time, I feel that it is important as both a student and instructor to understand what my goals are for training, and then to make sure that everything that happens in class is effectively and efficiently moving me and my students towards those goals. 

As part of this approach, it becomes necessary to define goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics for training.  While there are many different definitions of these terms, a set of descriptions that I like are:
•    A goal is a broad aim toward which your efforts are directed. 
•    An objective is a specific and measurable milestone that must be achieved in order to reach a goal.
•    A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve an objective.
•    A tactic is a specific action step required to deliver on a strategy.

As we move down the list to finer details, the number of items increases.  In other words, there are many objectives for each goal, many strategies for each objective, and many tactics for each strategy.  To help put this into context, let’s take one example relative to karate training and define one item for each of these terms from that perspective. 
•    Goal: Learn to defend oneself against violence.
•    Objective: Increase ability to generate power.
•    Strategy: Learn to generate power in striking motions through hip rotation.
•    Tactic: Repetitions of impact training of teisho uchi.

Every stance, kick, block, strike, punch, and movement in training should be contributing to one or more of our goals.  If it is not, then it should be eliminated to allow time for activities that help us achieve our goals.  Even for activities that do contribute to our goals, we should ask if there might be other things that we could do to get there more efficiently and/or effectively. 

Much of my life focuses on analytical thinking and striving to optimize processes, and I feel that my training and teaching have benefited from applying those same principles to karate.  Within the elements that I can control, I find that applying these principles to my own training results in moving from a technique-driven syllabus to a goal-driven syllabus.  And while there is a lot of overlap in what is actually done in training for the two systems, I find that the focus on goals helps me ensure that everything has a purpose and that each moment in training is helping me and my students to achieve our goals.     

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan