Is ‘Cheaper, Better, Faster’ Really Better?

March 2013, by So-Young Kang, video illustration by Samantha Hoong

In today’s culture, it’s all about ‘cheaper, better, faster.’ When I first heard this phrase used for companies, their strategies and how decisions were getting made, it led me to question the true value of ‘cheaper, better and faster’ and what that really means.

When does this mentality work? As I reflected, a common scenario where this could work really well is where there are rote processes (e.g., e-commerce systems) where tasks are repeated over and over again. It’s perfect when the common currency is ‘efficiency,’ not necessarily ‘effectiveness.’

But in what contexts does it not work as well? When you want to design something great…

Great experience
Great vision
Great culture

Is ‘cheaper, better, faster’ really good enough? What does ‘great’ require?

When designing something great, it may not really be a linear process, which is an efficient process; it could actually be backward, forward, or circular, which can be very frustrating. It requires twists and turns and is not necessarily faster.
Sometimes, you come up with brilliant ideas when you take a more non-linear path because you incorporate different ideas. Is it the cheapest? Maybe not. You might need to experiment, prototype, and even fail. If you fail, that may be costly, too. Yet in the process of prototyping and experimenting, you can actually design something great.

Designing a great culture can take years to develop, and takes intentional focus and investment. When it comes to transformation or major changes to an organization—such as a new strategy, a new experience, a new way of working—CEOs often make the mistake of thinking it will happen quickly once the decision to change is made. They say, “I want a great culture. I want a great product. I want great innovation. I want a great company.” Over 70% of transformations fail. They fail for a number of reasons, but I wonder how much of it is due to an underlying mentality of ‘cheaper, better, faster’ or in other words, “Why can’t it be done today? Why can’t people just change? I have a new strategy.” They’re applying the wrong mindset for things they desire. If you want efficiency, go for ‘cheaper, better, faster.’

But if you want…

Greatness
Newness
Innovation
Transformation

Perhaps ‘cheaper, better, faster’ may not be the best way to go.

How conscious are you on when you apply ‘cheaper, better, faster’?