Is laziness the secret to true success?

April 21, 2024

A leading German general in World War 2, Erich von Manstein, came up with this thought-provoking quote:

“There are only four types of officer. First there the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm. Second, there are the hard working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard working stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

Along the same lines, the great thinker Bertrand Russell noted:

“Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first one is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.”

The message from both these quotes is that laziness, combined with intelligent thought, is the secret to success.

So why, then, do the vast majority of people spend their lives working hard, coming home each night exhausted, only to repeat the same process day after day, year after year?

On General von Manstein’s scale, I would probably describe myself as hard-working and intelligent. However, during the past 10 years when I’ve had my own business and worked up to 70 hours a week, with very few holidays, I might actually have to admit to being hard-working and stupid.

Now, I believe, it’s time to re-align my life around the goal of becoming lazy and intelligent. Easier said than done, of course, since the propensity to work hard has been instilled in me (as in most people) by parents, teachers, employers etc for many years.

To think about being lazy makes me feel terribly guilty. And I’m not alone. Many (in fact most) small business owners are exactly the same. Working long hours, making huge sacrifices, and earning a reasonable amount of money but when divided by the number of hours worked, the hourly rate doesn’t look so great.

To help in the direction of becoming more lazy, here’s a quote from Richard Koch’s new book “The 80/20 Manager”:

“The greatest challenge for any business… is how to simplify is products and in the process make them more affordable and easier to use. Product simplification is hard to achieve but it is a sure route to domination and expansion.”

Simplicity. Focus. Stripping away wasted time and effort. That’s the secret. So let’s see if we can take some steps towards achieving it.

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