Be Brilliant, Be Lazy
The Virtues of Laziness
In 1933, the Chief of the German Army, General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, is attributed with a wonderfully insightful and original method for selecting his officers. “I divide my officers into four classes as follows: The clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Each officer always possesses two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. Use can under certain circumstances be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.”
A friend of mine introduced me to this ingenious system and I have tried to incorporate it into my life as much as possible ever since, using it to keep a check on my own professional and personal performance. Yes, I was in the military myself when I first heard of this and immediately found it provided an interesting and fun perspective with which to judge my appointed commanding officers. But since leaving the Paras, I began to realise the concept was also totally relevant outside of the military.
Many people would proudly accept the “clever and industrious” label and might perhaps find it curious that “lazy” could be regarded as a virtue at all. Many of us work in a climate where industry for industry’s sake is more highly regarded and rewarded than efficiency. A typical example I found during my time at JP Morgan is staying late at your desk just so you can be seen to be staying late. Leaving on time or working remotely when you are not required in the office is still so often vilified and feared, even though most of us would secretly welcome and benefit from such a relaxed attitude and environment.
So, what are the virtues of laziness? I think it’s first important to clarify that by laziness, I mean finding the simplest, most efficient solution to a problem. That mindset in itself helps us to be more creative, which, in turn, often finds us enjoying our work more, too. If the best solutions are often the most simplest, why use time and energy doing anything other than seeking simplicity – ie being lazy.
As managers, our workload and responsibility increases but this is precisely when it is in everyone’s best interests for us to be even more lazy. Managers are often afraid to delegate, either because they feel lacking in authority or because they don’t trust their team members. However, ideally, a lazy and clever manager would responsibly delegate as much of his/her workload as possible. The benefits of this are two fold – Firstly, their own workload is lightened, allowing them more time to actually manage the team instead of contributing time and energy to tasks best suited to non-management team members. Secondly, by delegating tasks, the manager empowers his workforce by giving them responsibility, which in turn provides them with experience with which they too can one day employ as a manager.
The stupid and industrious manager, in contrast, would fear relinquishing control to the workforce and attempt to complete as many tasks as possible by themself. This will no doubt lead to increased stress levels, which will often trickle feed down to the workforce by way of ill tempered behaviour and unwarranted criticisms and bitterness. At the same time, the workforce would become idle and then bored. And an idle, bored workforce is a dangerous thing indeed.
So, come on, let’s be more brilliant! Don’t work hard, work smart! Afford yourself more you-time, free up more energy, empower and inspire people and be creative all by being more lazy!
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