Smart and lazy

“Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

General Erich Von Manstein (1887-1973) on the German Officer Corps

I have an affinity for the smart and lazy lifestyle but never considered it an asset until this evening. Jim McGee’s post about balancing diligence and laziness ends with an appeal to consider the following:

  1. What alternate terms than diligence and laziness could we use to better frame the issue?
  2. How important is it to carve out times and places to engage in visible laziness within organizations?
  3. Is this a problem that needs to be solved at the organizational level? For which types of organization?
  4. What barriers to innovation, if any, does a bias toward diligence create?


The most vibrantly creative team I’ve ever been a part of was the one that flew the pirate flag on Bandley Drive, the original Macintosh team. Steve called us the A players, while the Apple II crew were the B players. Nevermind that the money was flowing from the B team’s side and we were still a money pit. That didn’t matter, we were Steve’s folks.

The hallmark of the B player was diligence. They worked in a larger and more structured environment that needed reliable processes and repeatable results. Diligence got the job done.

The hallmark of the A player wasn’t laziness. It was the confidence that comes from knowing you’re doing something the B player could never do. You were going to change the world. It was a higher calling than just shipping product.

1) The diligent – lazy continuum doesn’t work for me because of the negative value that our part of the world puts on “lazy” behavior. I prefer framing the discussion in terms of the organization’s objectives. Do the objectives call for a structured or less structured environment? After the Macintosh and Apple II divisions merged it became painfully apparent that the B player managers were counting heads at 9am while the A player managers may make it in by noon, unless they were sleeping under their desks again. It was a very confusing time as the less structured met the more structured organization. And not one of the A or B players could be called lazy.

2) It’s important to let people nap. Studies have shown (and life in Italy proves) that napping is very beneficial. If any “laziness” is on display then it should be introduced as a personnel policy regarding napping.

3) It’s a problem to be solved in the context of the job to be done. Some jobs do not require much creative thought yet demand constant attention. They are unlikely to find beds installed in their worksites. Other jobs come with a license to wool gather. Certain editorial posts in the publishing industry come to mind.

4) Overbearing diligence can be a barrier to innovation. Yet having a diligent process for brainstorming, wool gathering, whiteboarding, workshopping, et. al., is a very good thing. There’s nothing like a diligent facilitator in a room full of smart people.

Some of the best results come from mixing up the diligent and the lazy provided they’re all smart.