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The inefficient chase for optimal efficiency and the rise of “Toxic Positivity”

The word ‘efficient’ seems to make an appearance in business exchanges even more often than media outlets print articles on COVID19 statistics or forum posters trade insults over their differing views on health and safety, freedom and the role of the state.

  Bangkok / Phuket Boat Lagoon

Efficiency is often stereotypically attributed to the laudable Prussian-origin commercial ‘systems’ in the Federal Republic of Germany, now perhaps overtaken by its notable energy efficiency. Singapore is often praised for its efficient systems, transport service and all-round convenience as a ‘City State’ albeit only the physical size of Phuket Island. Phuket is not yet famous for its efficiency, but perhaps that is a good thing. Efficiency is also a word that is used to sell a potential good or service which may be offered as efficiently delivered or something which will make the purchaser or receiver ‘more efficient’.

However, during the mandatory lockdowns, imposition of double standardised and hypocritical state measures from public officials, many of whom flout the laws they promote, there has been plenty of time to consider the true value of work; cities; family; friends; free time; health and amongst other matters – efficiency. The promotion of artificial intelligence and technology as a new revolutionary commercial and state driven substitute, or reduction device, for human resources is also often backed by references to making humanity more ‘efficient’, but this is not all going to be plain sailing, nor can all human endeavours be artificially substituted, altruism being the hotly debated critical example.

After consideration, efficiency in many instances may be pointless, or offer such a low degree of marginal beneficial returns compared to the input effort, that perhaps those who pepper their days and years with efficiency objectives – to the same degree a specialist chef might pepper South Indian cuisine – are the real time wasters. The same persons who are inclined, when faced with a task they might not like, and who respond “well, that’s not efficient”, may be (in a multi-dimensional Venn Diagram format) in the same subset of the new rising class of persons whom the World Economic Forum recently characterised as asserting “Toxic Positivity”.

I believe the crime against humanity, on pointlessly insisting on efficiency where it is not needed, is indeed similar to the crime of constantly ignoring the rights of others to not like something, to criticise it, to feel negative about the future prospects of an idea – all of which have unfortunately fallen victim to the insincere and overriding non-empathetic objectives of the Toxic Positivity perpetrators. You know the ones I am talking about: the people who take photos of empty beaches and write “Welcome to Phuket Sandbox” in a passive aggressive positivity hoax or who attempt to characterise legitimate criticisms of overbearing gap-filled contradictory rules and regulations as originating from ‘haters’ and ‘naysayers’, rather than from smart people who can analyse and identify flaws.

If you think you are being “efficient” by using a tech tool in your business, but you are using your additional time to post in a media forum designed to clickbait users to impress advertisers for revenue purposes, then your trade-off is potentially highly inefficient. If you modify your pick-up truck, add racing stripes and neon stickers, lower the wheelbase, and illegally modify the exhaust system to harass others with high decibel assaults and speed your way around roads with wanton regard for human safety, but then as you exit your ridiculous child-like vehicle, you slowly meander sloth-like from it to your destination without a care in the world, then you are highly inefficient, dangerous, and probably socially quite useless in many respects.

Trade is notably more productive when it is efficient, but now ‘sustainable and responsible’ have fortunately crept in to address the over-emphasis on speed and ‘optimal’ usage. Quickly delivering goods from workers who are underpaid packing them into boxes isn’t really ‘efficient’ in social capital terms. It is efficient if the objective is to devalue humans and place them in a modern slavery agreement just above the welfare state benefit line, if they happen to be in a state where there are such benefits worth discussing.

Transport for trade is covered by the above, but transport for humans is a different matter entirely. A city-dweller in my teens to twenties, the efficiency of a work and social commute was highly important to me and many others and remains a huge issue globally. A few train delays could butcher an evening or work deadline like a cleaver cutting through the neck of a free-range chicken in a far nicer way than it would a caged hen.

Now, in Phuket, observing the similarities between the Speedway race in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and the pace and behaviour of traffic along Thekprassatri Road from one red light and through another, I am highly skeptical of the need for speed or efficiency in leisurely or business travel on this fair island I share with many others.

In my business, the grade and abilities of an individual determine their ‘hourly rate’, and discussions with clients can often at the pre-engagement state involve comments on whether it is ‘efficient’ for a partner to carry out work, or for a younger associate to do it. The sliding scale rates of fees have the answer implicitly embedded within. If I review a contract, I might be four times faster than an associate more than 10 years professionally junior to me, but my hourly rate may only be disproportionately and marginally higher than the difference in my skills and timing ability compared to that junior. When people have to think about ‘getting what they are paying for’, all romantic notions of efficiency can quickly disappear if they have to pay more for the efficient and skilled person. It is much the same principle, albeit perhaps oversimplified, that some apply when they shop for groceries or electronic goods, preferring low grade and cheap, to high quality and longevity.

In a very inefficient way, I am trying to articulate “is efficiency necessary all or most of the time?”. With the advent of greater focus on health and wellbeing, then surely not. How many laps did you do and how many calories did you burn according to your smart watch? Can you shave off three minutes per hour from your 10k runs? If you buy a bicycle 10 times lighter and 10 times more expensive than an ordinary bicycle can you cycle 10 times or more faster? Is the detailed monitoring of everything you do, through measurement instruments and gadgets, helping or hindering your state of mind?

To the Toxic Positivity enthusiasts out there, I am exercising my right to be negative and more balanced about an over focus on efficiency. Please try and empathise if you can. I am OK with my car having an efficient engine, buying tickets and making payments online efficiently, but if I attend a networking dinner or event I don’t see the value in ‘efficiently moving around the room until you meet a person that is aligned with your business profile’ and if I order a Guinness I like to wait for it to settle before I take my first sip. I prefer a little bit more circumspection, and the element of chance to play some part in social and recreational past times; maybe there is a social movement out there that feels similarly. Many well attuned personal coaches, mind mentors and advisors now advocate trying to balance life so that some pastimes are not actually efficient at all, but rewarding in their glorious frivolity.

As many of us have been battered with the realisation or reminder that States and Governments are often highly unskilled and inefficient, and rely upon the efficiency of their citizens in supporting their underperformance and propping up the holes they create in economies, let us take a moment to consider whether we are being robbed of a balanced life through subliminal and direct propaganda-esque marketing of the value of ‘efficiency’.

Do government controllers really wake up and think all day about how the lives of citizens can be improved, or are they worrying about GDP, military and other budgets, proving the economy has ‘grown’, raising more taxes, increasing their own salaries and junkets, and spending taxpayers monies directly and indirectly to… be re-elected.

Let’s slow down the moronic pointless quest to beat the red traffic lights, roll down the window, and enjoy the views and increasingly less fresh air. Let’s make sure the overseers don’t send everyone to an early grave so they can holiday in the tropics, whilst most people resident in the tropics are working. Be positive by all means, but not toxically so.

By Desmond Hughes, Senior Partner of Hughes Krupica.

Hughes Krupica is a law firm which specialises in Real Estate; Construction; Hospitality; Corporate; Commercial; Personal Injury; Dispute Resolution; and Litigation, operating in Bangkok and Phuket, servicing clients in relation to their business activities in Thailand and in other regions of Asia.


 Contact info:

Hughes Krupica Consulting

Hughes Krupica Consulting Co. Ltd
23/123-5 Moo 2 Kohkaew Plaza
The Phuket Boat Lagoon
T. Kohkaew Amphoe Muang
Phuket 83000 Thailand
Tel: (0) 76 608 468

Hughes Krupica Consulting (Bangkok) Co. Ltd
29/41 Soi Ladprao 22
Ladprao Road
Chankasem, Chatuchak
Bangkok 10900 Thailand
Tel: (0) 20 771 518

[email protected]

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