Marohn lacerates Hilton Hotels in pursuit of a larger point about efficiency.


Charles Marohn had a bad experience at a Hilton.

I’m just not going to stay at Hilton hotels anymore. I would encourage others not to as well.

This bad experience is the launching point for a consideration of efficiency. It turns out Marohn also was in the middle of the 2017 Delta Airlines “meltdown.”

As Nassim Taleb, the Patron Saint of Strong Towns Thinking, has taught us, the operational opposite of efficiency is not inefficiency, it’s redundancy. It’s spare parts. It’s slack in the system. For example, the human body is not very efficient. We have two kidneys when we only need one. We have more brain power and lung capacity than we routinely use. If economists – or Delta efficiency experts – designed the human body, they’d get rid of all that redundancy. It keeps us from operating at peak efficiency.

As we all understand, however, that redundancy also keeps us alive. When we look at natural systems – systems that are complex as opposed to merely complicated like Delta airlines – what we find is that redundancy is a critical survival strategy. The ability to take reserve capacity and utilize it for adaptation during times of stress is essential.

Marohn’s conclusion might surprise you.

Hilton Hotels’ Efficiency Tradeoff, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)

 … Local governments should prudently act to improve what they do, but they should never seek added efficiency at the expense of their own stability. Hilton will someday go bankrupt; their leadership is going to continue to push the efficiency mantra so tight that they will squeeze all the slack out of their system, making them fatally vulnerable to a shock of some type. That’s the ultimate fate of every efficient system, whether that failure happens tomorrow or in some distant future.

Cities can’t operate that way. If we don’t want them to fail, we must stop demanding that they do.