Problem Management — principles

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
— Peter Drucker

It has long been a cliché that computer programs spend 90% of their time running 10% of the code.

The essential idea is that if one wants to speed up a program, discovering that critical 10% is the most important step. It doesn't matter how much one improves the other 90% of the code, even making it infinitely fast will at best speed up the program by only 10%.

This same principle applies to many fields other than computer science, but unfortunately other principles, such as politics, tend to get in the way and divert effort to the wrong places.

Just think of events like Earth Day or other popular programs to help the environment. In almost all cases, the efforts are spent on the 90% of causes that make very little relative contribution to the problem, while the 10% that causes 90% of the problem are neglected.

But those misplaced efforts are something that even an ordinary person can do, they are very obvious high-profile things, and they make everyone feel good about having contributed. It's very obvious why they are chosen. In reality though, such programs divert effort and attention from the real problems and thereby make things worse, not better.

Such processes, which are obviously good yet actually make the problem worse, are one definition of evil (§3.8).

Whenever trying to improve a situation, first determine what the real problem is, what factors contribute to it, and how significant each contribution is.

Only then should one decide how to attack the problem. Starting with a feel-good make-work solution is one sure path to failure (though unfortunately, it will likely ensure re-election).