“Work smarter, not harder.” It’s a term often heard by just about anyone who has ever set out to perform a task. It can be found on inspirational posters and do-it-yourself home repair manuals as well as articles on life management and corporate handbooks.

What is being talked about in these four brief words is efficiency. Coined by industrial engineer Allen F. Morgenstern in the 1930s, the phrase was created as part of Morgenstern’s Work Simplification Program, which aimed to “increase the ability of people to produce more with less.”

Today, as manufacturers, organizations, and individuals continue to navigate a landscape of scarce resources and ever-increasing demands on time and quality, our need for efficiency has taken shape in our technological developments and continuous improvement programs.

It leads me to an article in Smithsonian Magazine authored by Maria Konnikova titled, “Does Thinking Fast Mean You’re Thinking Smarter?” which discussed research into the relationship between “quick thinking and methodical reasoning.”

One of the more interesting—and funny—chronicles from the article described a study by Sir Francis Galton in 1884 in which he invited visitors to his London laboratory to participate in tests that would “measure their height, weight, keenness of sight and ‘swiftness of blow with fist.’” The study was described as “immensely popular” as people paid three pence and lined up around the block to see how efficiently they could throw a punch!

Although Galton was later disregarded due to his founding of the eugenics movement, his study collected data from 17,000 individuals that lead to “decades [of] other researchers pursu[ing] Galton’s basic idea—speed equals smarts.” 

As Konnikova points out, “As a society we certainly equate speed with smarts. Think fast. Are you quick-witted? A quick study? A whiz kid? Even Merriam-Webster bluntly informs us that slowness is ‘the quality of lacking intelligence or quickness of mind.’ But we also recognize something counterintuitive about accepting full-stop that people who react faster are smarter. That’s why, even though athletic training improves reaction time, we wouldn’t scout for the next Einstein at a basketball game. Intelligence probably has a lot to do with making fast connections, but it surely has just as much to do with making the right connections.”

And making the right connections alludes to accuracy. Konnikova describes a study by Adam Alter at New York University that asked volunteers to answer a series of typed-out questions. One group was provided with the questions typed clearly and easy to read, the other with questions that were blurry and hard to read. “The people who had to work harder ended up processing the text more deeply and responding to the questions more accurately.”

Konnikova’s concludes, “We tell athletes to think fast. But when we want a well-reasoned decision, we say think long and hard, which isn’t all that different from think slow.”

For the quality industry, as author Mark Thomas writes, “As adoption of Industry 4.0 progresses, there is a need for faster set-up, faster inspection, and more in-process measurement data to monitor and control processes for optimum efficiency.” So, read “Multisensor: Make It Part of the Process” and everything we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!