The Science of Lazy

A new study shows that lazy people may not be lazy at all. And their laziness is a good thing.

Most people would not be happy if they were categorized as lazy. Being lazy has a negative connotation to it due to societal norms, but being lazy is not always a bad thing. In the past, we’ve talked about how lazy coders are usually the best at what they do. They are the best because they don’t like to code things more than once, they are lazy. In the world of coding, this is a great thing. Getting it right the first time is efficient and cost-effective. Recently, we found proof, a study was done that confirms what we’ve been saying: Laziness isn’t always bad.

According to the article, people who are less physically active tend to be brainier than physically active people, based on this study, “The data found that those with a high IQ got bored less easily, leading them to be less active and spend more time engaged in thought.” The article goes on to say that part of the problem is how we view laziness. The perception is that activities like playing a video game are lazy because they involve minimal activity. But the reality is, those games, even Fortnite, often involve complex and strategic thinking to get through.

Those strategic games are incredibly intricate, requiring many levels of thought. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page all enjoy video games. None of them is unintelligent, nor are they lazy. They are wildly successful, in part due to their gaming experience where overcoming challenges typically takes outside-the-box thinking and team collaboration. Those are two things that are vital to running a successful business, among other things of course, but when you already train your brain this way, applying it in a different arena is less of a jump.

Bill Gates may have once said, “I always choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” (This quote has often been attributed to Gates, but there is some controversy around it.)

Good coders have three things in common: Strong ethics, a desire for control and they are lazy. But they are smartly lazy. They don’t want to do a job more than once, meaning their preference is to get it right the first time. This means doing complex strategic thinking, planning and puzzling, prior to ever hitting a keyboard.

When business leaders rush projects along and want to do it “quick and dirty,” it forces coders and developers to do the job twice. Not only is this less efficient, but it ends up costing more. 

So the next time your developers come to you and say they need more time, it’s not because they are lazy and working slowly. It’s because they are trying to get it right the first time. It’s working smarter, keeping costs down and ensuring that the end result is what the business needs, functions properly and is secure. This is the best you could hope for when you work with a coder.

And the next time you interview for a developer position, hire a consultant or develop a project, remember that “lazy” people are more likely to be strategic thinkers, they are concerned with wasteful actions and prefer efficiency, and may come up with some innovations and shortcuts to eliminate problems and save time.

Another consideration for business leaders would be to use that strategic thinking to solve business problems non-IT related. When there is an obstacle in another department, it could benefit the business to present the problem to one of your devs. Even if what they come up with isn’t feasible, it may trigger a thought inside the affected department to help resolve the issue.

Hiring lazy people in any industry isn’t always bad. Sure, there are some out there who are just plain lazy. But a lot of the time, that laziness breeds efficiency, finding shortcuts to get the job done faster, coming up with new ways to do things that makes it easier for everyone, and even help out in other areas.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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