I graduated from an engineering program where the concepts of effectiveness and efficiency were held in high regard. Truly elegant solutions can produce phenomenal results with very few resources or effort. By contrast, overly large and complex designs that rely on brute force to get the job done may perform a little better, but the investment required can make the solution undesirable.
I learned this important business concept in a team project for a mechanical engineering class. The objective was to build a structure out of balsa wood, string and glue that could support a weight hanging from a little square plate. The score was to be calculated by dividing the largest weight you could hang from the string (the return) divided by the weight of your structure (the investment). Although there were plenty of designs that could handle much heavier weights than ours could, we far outscored everyone because our design was minimalistic - it weighted very, very little.
In Constant Contact's recent2014 Holiday Survey, they discovered that 40% of small businesses said they didn't have the time to use data to inform business decisions. We all know time is a limited resource for us, and that how we spend that time will determine our success or failure. There are so many opportunities we let pass by because we just don't have the time.
My recommendation: always be looking for elegant solutions; those little gems that don't require much (time or money) yet can deliver huge value to your business. The one word to be especially attuned to:automation. While we'd all like to do more; our success will come from investing less time in the things we actually do.
I can draw an analogy to computer programming: there are programmers, good programmers, and great programmers. Programmers can write code (that works), good programmers can write code faster, great programmers create utilities to automate their tedious tasks and let the computers do the work for them.
To get more things done, look for ways to automate the things you do. Reduce the effort.
Mike Sullivan is the founder of Analytics Edge, providing simple Excel-based report automation products for individuals and small businesses.