Bill Gates once famously said: “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it”. At face value it appears that Bill Gates is praising laziness as a personality trait. When one of the world’s richest people says something of this gravitas, people place a great deal of importance on their words. One of the dangers of this amount of influence by one person, is that, as an unintended consequence, somewhat simpler members of society will take things too literally. So, was Bill Gates really suggesting that lazy people are actually the smarter people in society? No, there is a much deeper meaning to what Bill Gates was actually saying. Before before you start using this quote to defend all of your lazy actions, let me explain further.
Ultimately when Bill Gates talks about laziness in this statement, he explains that the goal of a good worker is to get to a point where they can have more time, freedom and money to be lazy and to have more choices in life. A successful person will work hard for a short period of time, create an innovative solution to the problem to make it more easy to work with, and then have more time for relaxation or leisure later.
This is in direct contrast to other types of workers who are more likely to come to work everyday to follow the same processes each day to achieve the same tasks, even though the work is repetitive and inefficient. Nobody can say that these workers do not work hard, but they lack the creativity and innovation to challenge the status quo to better the company and make processes more efficient.
Autonomy and clear direction:
So how can we encourage efficiency in our workers? The first step is to allow autonomy. Workers that cannot act on their own judgement are not free to challenge the status quo to recognise inefficient processes and use creativity to generate novel solutions. At first this will feel like a risky venture, and it requires a strong company culture. It is imperative here to ensure that the company values are well set out, and that all workers are clear of the company goals. With these steps in place, you can reliably hand over autonomy to your employees, because they will be able to be guided by these values when designing efficient solutions, and the resultant decisions that are made will be similar to those which management would make. In fact, the decisions made will ultimately be better for the shift in autonomy, since those workers who are directly faced with the inefficiencies that the company suffers from will be more likely to come up with effective solutions that suit their more productive work.
Certainly, the words of Bill Gates are a useful quote: thought-provoking and inspiring. They may even make a great Monday morning inspiration email to send to your employees! Just don’t forget to explain their meaning, and follow it up with some considered structural changes providing more autonomy to employees and ensuring company values are clear.