It’s a point of debate whether Bill Gates said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” No matter who we attribute to this quote, it's interesting to understand the meaning behind the apparent counter-intuitive adroitness of the lazy person.
In the 1920s, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, an advocate of scientific management, completed his groundbreaking research in time and motion study and made an important observation: the key to improving efficiency is to reduce the unnecessary.
And, he was not alone in this point of view. A military leader, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, also wrote that the person who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He said this because lazy people will not try to do everybody else’s work, and will have the requisite nerve and the mental clarity for difficult decisions.
Today, this is recognized as productive laziness. Being lazy will help you work better and achieve a better balance with personal life. This is what it means to be a lazy leader.
Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy [people] trying to find easier ways to do something — Robert Heinlein
But first, let me tell you a story. Early in my career, I used to visit engineering works to assess the quality of manufactured products. However, I'd rarely inspect items. Instead, I would examine the systems and processes put in place by the company.
On one occasion, I was examining a quality checklist for a component that had been made for many years. A supervisor completed the paperwork at the end of each shift, and always placed a ‘1’ in the checkbox labelled ‘AR’.
Why was this? The supervisor didn't know. Neither did the manager. They said that it had always been that way… but to cut a long story short, ‘AR’ was the abbreviation for an air raid. That's right, fifty years before my visit, the factory's output was halted when the bombs fell. This fact was pertinent in 1941, but not in the 1990s!
How is this relevant to laziness? Quite simply, we often do unnecessary things because we've lost sight of the reason we do them. Another way of saying this is that only 20% of what we do really matters.
Much of my work has come from being lazy. — John Backus
I'm sure you've heard of the Pareto principle or 80/20 rule. This reminds us to focus on the 20% of what matters to produce 80% of positive results. The lazy leader identifies those things that are important and focuses on them. This is what productive laziness and lazy leadership is about.
But there’s more to being a lazy leader. As General von Hammerstein-Equord puts it, you need to be smart and lazy. The lazy leader is smart enough to see what needs to be done, but is also motivated by an inherent laziness to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what is wanted.
To present this in a more positive way, the lazy leader knows how to be successful through the most efficient use of effort. But this isn't about taking shortcuts. No, productive laziness also requires learning: the ability to form new ideas and to develop and acquire new knowledge for future application.
Join me, the Lazy Leader, on this journey to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what is required to succeed in leadership.