Efficiency vs. Resilience

Many years ago, bestselling author Michael Pollan explained there’s a trade-off between efficiency and resilience.

For example, your grocery store probably did not have a warehouse full of toilet paper backstock sitting around somewhere when their customers bought out their entire supply. It would be expensive and inefficient to keep a huge supply of toilet paper on hand in the unlikely chance it would ever be needed.

It would be inefficient — but if they’d done it, they might not have an empty toilet paper aisle right now.

I went to business school 20 years ago. We learned about the efficiency of “just-in-time” supply management.

The goal was to cut costs by ordering inventory “just in time.” That way you don’t pay for all the extra, costly warehouses to store weeks or months of supplies. The example we were given was that if a certain large corporation’s supply chain shut down, they’d only have enough materials on hand to keep up production for four days.

Efficient? Yes. Resilient? No.

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