Musing about “laziness”

I keep getting told that perception is everything. I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those guys who finds that statement puerile. It’s like telling me “Hypocrisy is OK, live with it”.

Not getting my drift? Let me take an example. “Laziness”. Some people get called lazy because you see them lounging around at work, chatting to people, occasionally even smiling. Dare I mention it, even laughing out loud. Some of these “lazy” people get a lot of “work” done, if you measure work in outcomes rather than in perceived effort.

Don’t believe me? Think about Thierry Henry on a bad day. Head-up footballer, wandering slothfully around with a minimum of effort, looking to all the world as if he wasn’t part of the game. Couldn’t care less. Then suddenly a couple of frenetic bursts, some incredible skill, and it’s 2-0 to his team.

Perception is not everything. Don’t let them kid you. Stay honest, with yourself and with those around you. Don’t get tangled up with the credit-stealers, concentrate on your outputs and outcomes.

That’s how I thought, for many years: There is good laziness and bad laziness. Some people are just lazy, they don’t get anything done. It isn’t just perception, there is actually no output of value, no outcomes that are meaningful.

More recently, over the last five years or so, I’ve learnt something more. Even good laziness comes in different styles and types. It isn’t enough to focus on outcomes, you need to focus on prevention of root cause as well.

So I started looking for a different brand of lazy person now. One who observed and conversed and thought. One who did not act in haste, while appearing to all to be doing very little. One who was more interested in getting the job done right rather than clamouring for the transient glory. One who found the root cause of a problem and then fixed that, rather than faff around looking busily heroic while getting 90% of nothing achieved.

So now that’s what I look for. Lazy people who fix root causes and prevent recurrence.

Why lazy people? This post, in Test Early, is a good place to go if you really need that answered. Headlined Fire Your Best People and Reward The Lazy Ones, here’s a taster:

People like troubleshooters because they can solve a problem when a project is under pressure such as getting that emergency fix out the door immediately. Without question, you need troubleshooters on your project. However, many times the (exclusive) troubleshooters are the ones that cause the problem in the first place, be it a hard-coded value, duplication of code or a large complex method only they can understand.

Before you start thinking that I’m trying to gather together a group of slackers, I’m suggesting the complete opposite of this. I just want people to think about the total time involved, not just fixing the symptom. There are people that are both troublepreventors and troubleshooters. These are the people you want to keep and reward. However, on a given team, I’d opt for more troublepreventors than troubleshooters as they save everyone time, money and headaches.

Troubleshooting per se is not bad; but unless it goes hand in hand with prevention of recurrence, unless it goes hand in hand with removal of the root cause, it has limited value.

6 thoughts on “Musing about “laziness””

  1. JP,
    True, one should never mistake productivity for activity, or side with creditseekers. But the issue with troublepreventing is captured by Nassim in The Black Swan when he talks about ‘the very sad category of those we do not know were heroes…Everybody knows that you need more prevention than treatment, but few reward acts of prevention.’

  2. Jasbinder, I agree. As Nassim said, few reward acts of prevention.
    But maybe we can change that. By making sure that people “perceive” the value of what these unsung heroes do. How do we do that? I think it’s similar to opportunity costs. We have to show the cost of not doing what these people do. Something I am working on.

  3. JP,

    I suppose the best act of prevention could be achieved by making the troubleshooter responsible for prevention of recurrence.

  4. You’re right, Abhijit, we could make the troubleshooter responsible for the prevention of recurrence.


    Like “deciding” isn’t “doing”, making someone “responsible” does not necessarily ensure that something “happens”. So I keep looking for people who do this naturally, the “lazy” ones.

  5. JP,

    Having been reading through some of your recent posts today, I’m immediately reminded of your post from September 28th:

    Unfortunately, I’ve worked with a number of people who would seem to regard the linked-to post as their Coding Bible. And it is just such people – as the writer of the post puts forward – that fall into the “troubleshooter” category.

    I suspect two primary underlying causes:

    1. Genuine laziness. Doing things in an unstructured, ad hoc way is almost always quicker, requires less thinking, and saves valuable Facebooking time.
    2. Insecurity. Some people actively seek the troubleshooter role as it puts them in the limelight and makes them feel valued (and loved?) by their colleagues, bosses, etc. Also, I’m afraid to say I’ve borne witness to instances where co-workers – not at my present place of work, I hasten to add – have obfuscated code or, worse, deliberately put in bugs for the purpose of having to later decode/fix the problem when someone discovers it at the eleventh hour and they need a saviour.

    Oddly, I’ve always instinctively been more drawn towards the troublepreventers than the troubleshooters when working with people and/or hiring them without really being aware of what property it was I saw in them that appealed to me. Now, perhaps, I’ll be more aware of what it is I’m looking for…

Let me know what you think

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