Back in school, at the end of each year we all got handed a report with our grades on it. At the bottom of the report there was always a one-sentence review written by your main teacher.
Regardless of the school or teacher I had over the years, this review was consistent. It said:
“Tobias is a smart kid, but he is unfortunately very lazy.”
At the time I saw it as critique. After all, we're always told that laziness is a bad thing. Only later I discovered that this was in fact a compliment.
I remember that I rarely did any of my homework myself. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, I just didn’t want to. By definition I was lazy.
For me it was simple. When given a homework assignment, the task was to return my homework, regardless of how I actually did it. I saw it as a challenge. I usually found other people to do my homework – I automated the shit out of everything teachers asked me for. I usually achieved this through some trade deals. (Kids are easy, chocolate always worked.)
I was always a trouble maker in school. Back in Germany when you caused some trouble in class, they made you hand write the “School Rules”as punishment after school. The “School Rules” was a 10 pages document; it took you quite some time to copy it in handwritten format.
I always had at least five of these already written in my bag. I hired people to write them for me in advance. I used photo copy machines (not common back then) and experimented with them. I added mistakes and splashes of ink to make the photo copies look more real.
I handed over dozens of these documents over the years. Of course I always waited 2–3 days to hand them to the teacher, often asking for deadline extension to make it look more authentic.
Looking back at my projects, I believe my laziness has helped me to come up with better ideas and design better solutions.
Laziness in itself is a great driver for innovation. Often times the greatest ideas and innovations are born out of laziness, by people who were too lazy to do a certain task.
Laziness in this case isn’t about sitting around binge watching TV, scrolling through Instagram and not doing anything. It’s about finding shortcuts in a system of well-established rules.
With laziness as a driver, we strive for maximum productivity with the minimum amount of effort or expense.
We invented the cellphone because being tied to a landline sucks. We invented the elevator/escalator because we we were too lazy to walk the stairs. We invented the wheel to carry things we were too lazy to carry on our shoulders (even the donkey was too lazy). We invented the remote because we are too lazy to walk to the TV set to change the channel or volume.
Almost everything (with the exception of life-saving inventions like vaccines and medicine) are born out of laziness.
Bill Gates once said: “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job… Because he/she will find an easy way to do it.”
Necessity has been know to be the mother of innovation, but for the 21st century we can say for sure it’s laziness.
The good news: Being lazy is human. It comes for free in everyone of us. The question is just what we do with it. As Lech Walesa said:
“I’m lazy. But it’s the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle, because they didn’t like walking or carrying things.”