Innovation Inspiration #007—Pursue Laziness

Twitter Updates


San Francisco PechaKucha Night
San Francisco IxDA


Today I finished the first draft of a 4-page document whose purpose is to distill an 80-page one, for a much less-technical audience.

The last half-page took me a more than half the day, but the finished product warranted it, IMHO.

That time and attention to detail may seem extravagant, but when you’re inventing something new, you shouldn’t be rushed. (First to market doesn’t always win, as Apple has amply demonstrated, time and time again.)

If you’re working your nose to the grindstone, but don’t feel like you’re really making progress, turn the power off, lift your head up, and look around. Somewhere nearby, there’s someone who is producing good work, but might look like they’re goofing off a bunch. You know the type—they like to hang out at the water cooler or in the kitchen (oh bother, I do miss the Yammer fridges…), telling jokes and smiling way too much. But somehow, they produce and make the boss happy. But how?

Because even when it doesn’t look like they’re working, they are. They’re looking for connections, mingling with people to figure out what is going on outside their normal sphere, and likely composing an e-mail or arranging a page layout in their head. (I have a hunch, and it only just came to me, so I’ve yet to ask the question enough to be sure, but I’m willing to wager a case of beer that half of the people you see who furiously type complex e-mail responses at a pace that makes you wonder how they think that quickly have really been pre-composing the response in their heads for a while.)

In my youth, I read of an inventor or scientist or programmer whose colleagues were constantly frustrated with how little he seemed to work—feet up on the table most of the time, seemingly engrossed in some sort of dreamland. But then suddenly, he would leap up and start writing furiously, producing some magical result that the rest hadn’t figured out in a few months (or years). Drove them nuts. I have ever since aspired to hone my skills to that level.

(And if you know who that smart guy was, please remind me. I can’t recall which book it was in! Levy’s Hackers? Inventors at Work? One of Feynman’s books?)

So if you see someone operating like this, stop criticizing them behind their back, and start emulating them.

This path will reduce your stress and allow your creative side to come through.

A smart guy once said, “A smart cowboy just wouldn’t work this hard to make things so difficult.” And I am constantly trying to emulate his approach.

I keep coming across other sources that preach this gospel, and the latest I found when a friend told me to Google “anti-conventional thinking”.

In The Creative Pursuit of Laziness, Jeffrey Baumgartner writes:

“You start a new job with a new company. There are two employees in similar positions. They have both been with the company for several years. One is clearly hard working. She is constantly busy, juggles numerous tasks successfully and often stays late to get work done. The other seems much more relaxed. Indeed, she is often sharing jokes with her colleagues! She does not appear to work very hard, finishes tasks seemingly too quickly and is usually one of the first to leave the office at the end of the day. Which one should you emulate if you wish to do well in the company?

“The seemingly lazy one, of course. …”

By lazy, he doesn’t mean like Wally. It’s OK to look lazy, but not to be lazy. Just as I described in …Organize Your Toolbox, you must have a purpose.

I was channeling my heroes today. I spent A LOT of time surfing the web, looking for insight, a bunch more looking for images, looking for just the right ones to illustrate the concept, and still more painfully knocking out the backgrounds in PS CS2.

Seemingly too much effort for the number of eyes that will see this document, but this part needs to look good, not hacked together. And both the image search and editing process allowed my brain to idle enough to think about the task, so that as I found each component, I was also formulating how to weave them into my story.

I also had to write this last bit of content to fit a space I didn’t yet know the dimensions of. Once I got all the other elements in place, I could see how much space I had left, and somehow had an implicit understanding of what to say and that it would fit perfectly.

I started typing, the words just flowed, and when they stopped I didn’t have room for another line, nor so much as a tab.

There’s a corollary to this story that would make this post too long—about whether you’re lucky enough to work in an environment where you can pull this MO off, and how to make the most of it if you can. Maybe in a week or three.

Hint: If the boss asks “what do you see your role here evolving into” or “what would you like your title to be” (or both), there’s a good chance you’re working for that kind of company. Run with it!

(How to fit the answer to that question in less than three lines on a business card—now that’s a tough minimalist writing assignment!)

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

1 thought on “Innovation Inspiration #007—Pursue Laziness”

Leave a Reply