the good side of laziness

“In Praise of Laziness”

The idea here–which I agree with–is that office workers spend too much time on garbage like composing and reading emails and not enough time on real productivity gains. Creative people (who need sustained time and concentration) and managers (who should be allowed to focus on strategy, not just operations) would benefit most from “laziness,” which in this context actually means taking a time out and not doing things reflexively and instead thinking about how things can really be improved and what direction things should be going.

I’ll add that this isn’t true of all workers. Some people like the consistency of doing relatively low-level or menial work. And business is full of such work whether we like it or not; we need people who want to do that sort of work to do it. But creative-oriented work, the type done by designers, scientists, and engineers, requires long periods of distraction-less thought and analysis. A ten second distraction by someone who wants to ask a “quick question” results in twenty minutes of lost time for such high-talent individuals:  the massive cognitive effort required to reconstruct a mental house of cards that has collapsed takes time and effort. Imagine mentally working your way through a non-trivial algorithm to a problem; at the cusp of a breakthrough, you’re interrupted by your boss for some trivial nonsense. How long will it take you to reclaim the stroke of brilliance?

Some business cultures are full of this sort of thing. In financial IT, software engineers often function as both developers and as escalated support engineers. While a major outage or other problem arguably should involve software engineers if the issue is at the application level, these sorts of interruptions should be the exception and not the norm. From my experience, however, interruptions for even trivial issues is a major reason why many application developers have a tough time in banking and why major IT innovations are harder than they should be. And this is from personal experience and many conversations with others who feel the same.

The editorial doesn’t advocate laziness in a negative sense. The argument is much like Susan Cain’s points in Quiet. Her perspective was less about management style and more about personality differences (namely introversion and extraversion), but the conclusion is the same. While there are necessarily times when we really need to engage with each other and “do stuff,” there are other times when we just need to shut our mouths, think things out for a while in solitude, and then, ever so quietly, come to the most effective and creative solution.

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One Response to the good side of laziness

  1. cavegirlmba says:

    If human beings were not lazy creatures, 90% of the machinery known today would never have been invented.

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