Tuesday, October 01, 2013

When hard work doesn't pay

An interesting post over at Farnam Street by Shane Parrish

Why Clever and Lazy People Make Great Leaders

Erich von Manstein, one of the top strategists in Hitler’s German Military, described Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr as “… probably one of the cleverest people I ever met.*”

Both men, according to Ben Breen, are widely credited with the following quote that gets to the heart of the matter.

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
There are a lot of facets to this argument. Malcolm Gladwell could probably turn it into a best-selling airport book.

Two quick points:

1. Parrish misinterprets the role of the clever/energetic officers in this model.

You want these people around. I’m guessing that von Hammerstein-Equord thought they’d be fit for middle management. Which makes sense. I imagine he saw them as company men: safe, reliable, rule following.
That is not true at all.

As Hammerstein-Equord notes, these officers belong on the General Staff. Under the Prussian system, General Staff officers were the brains and nerve system of the army, not paper shuffling middle managers. They studied, planned, and wargamed every strategy and operation.

2. We have here a paradox: The leader of an organization that exemplifies 'a bias for action' believes that laziness is a prerequisite for leadership.

This goes against the grain of conventional management thinking. Which means it is probably true.


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