Problem Causer, Work Avoider, Workaholic or Innovator?

By David Crandall


In the book The Silences of Hammerstein, Chief of the German Army High Command Hammerstein-Equord is quoted as stating the following:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking — 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 hardworking — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief. *

In the months since first reading this quote at the Ribbonfarm, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it and its implications. I detail out the four groups identified by Hammerstein in this post for two reasons.

  1. Awareness of the different groups prevents the intentional mind from falling into the wrong one
  2. I will refer to this post in future articles
Let’s start with what I believe is the worst group of the four.

Stupid & Hardworking

Problem causers. Trouble makers. Dangerous.

If only these people were truly unintelligent. Unfortunately, “stupid” here refers more to a skewed perspective in a given situation than intellectual capability. Not to be mistaken with those who can take a different perspective and “think outside of the box”, this group creates problems that do not truly exist…and then work mercilessly to address them.

Getting lost in the details, the Stupid & Hardworking miss the big picture yet their commitment to hard work ensures they implement their solution regardless. These are the developers that spend weeks and months creating applications but never consulting end-users. Business owners who create supply for which their is no demand.

If you’ve watched the television series “The Office”, this is Dwight Schrute.

Detrimental to any business or social group, Quadrant A is to be avoided at all costs.

Stupid & Lazy

Work avoiders. The overwhelming majority of the population.

Despite their actual level of intelligence, this group has chosen to behave as though they had just enough brains to get out of bed, get dressed, go to work, come home…and repeat. They don’t know how to identify problems or opportunities. In the event that they told about a problem or opportunity, members of this group avoid hard work if possible AND fail to innovate solutions.

Not as dangerous as Quadrant A who are running around causing problems, Quadrant B can at least be harnessed together and managed by the Smart Quadrants. Unfortunately, they are lazy in the worst sense of the word since their laziness diminishes the quality of their own lives.

They wait for permission. Permission to do what they love. Permission to let their ideas and vision have a place in the world. They wait for someone to manage them and their dreams instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. They complain instead of solve and wait for a list of tasks they can check off and say “Done”.

A ridiculous percentage of the Stupid & Lazy believe they will get rich and retire from their winnings in the lottery. Until then, they dwell in cubicles and tend to their lawn on the weekends waiting for something to change.

(This is the group that complains about their boss being lazy instead of doing something to make their situation better.)

Clever & Hardworking

Workaholics. Middle management. Classic boot-strappers.

Not the bottom of the food chain…but generally not the top either.

Members of Quadrant C are smart enough to identify actual problems and opportunities. They know what needs to be done and have formulated a plan of action. This group isn’t afraid of hard work and therefore, unfortunately, their plan usually consists of only one strategy: work as hard and as long as necessary.

It’s not so much that members of Quadrant C are workaholics for work’s sake but rather that they are addicted to work as their go to solution. They may be addicted to the praise and sense of accomplishment, but they would just as soon accept it were it to come from something other than long hours.

Be certain that on the ladder of success, this group has a place. Their climb is long and hard but rewards can exist.

(This is the group that the perceived lazy boss actually relies on the most.)

Clever & Lazy

Innovators. CEO and Upper management. The super rich.

Surprised to see the list of members for this group?

Lazy is not being defined in the classic sense equal to slothfulness here; Quadrant D is full of people who have worked hard. The defining characteristic separating this group from the previous one is that working hard is never the first choice.

Like the Smart and Hardworking group, this one is smart enough to identify problems and opportunities. Where they differ is how they approach those problems and opportunities. While the previous group’s strategy is working late nights and weekends, members of this group innovate more creative solutions in order to save the time and energy the first group is spending.

This creativity, this innovation, is the reason Hammerstein wanted clever, lazy people as his highest leadership. Instead of throwing more man-hours at a problem, this group looks for a much more elegant solution. When you’re dealing with war, that means more people survive the solution than those led by the preceding group.

When dealing with business, it might just mean that you survive with less debt and ulcers than the preceding group.

Hammerstein wasn’t the only one to recognize this group’s strengths. As a result, many members of this group end up managing and delegating to the other groups.

(Which means those who were complaining about their boss being lazy might actually be right.)

Where do you fall?

Problem creator? Permission seeker? Workaholic? Innovator?

I see them as a progression and have personally been part of each group. My life resume would include entries for times I’ve spent conjuring up problems to solve, avoiding problems, working on real problems, and creating innovative solutions just as many of yours would too.

Which ones have you been part of?

Which one is where you are right now…and how is that affecting your life?

  • Hi David, welcome back!

    This reminds me of a blog post (and blog) I’ve wanted to write for 4 years. I mostly haven’t because I don’t know what I’d follow it with!

    I think there are many ways to divvy up groups of people, and this model does a pretty good job of looking at practical results of people’s external actions. In other words, it’s not looking at internal motivations, only the way a person interfaces with the world and the practical result of it. Coming from that perspective, it seems to me that “lazy” people are those who lack an internal motivation to lower their head and charge the brick wall. “Clever lazy” people find 10 other people to charge the brick wall. “Stupid lazy” people just sit there and stare at it.

    We’re all “stupid” and “clever” at different times in our lives, about different subject areas. I think it would be good if we could find a way to help people learn to be more “clever.”

    • Astute observation regarding how people interface with the world. The differences in how each group interfaces with the world is one of their most distinct characteristics.

      I encourage you to write on this topic too! I think the more we set our mind to identifying these patterns, the less likely we are to fall into a category we don’t want to be in.

  • Dan

    Well holy hot-damn look who showed up in my feed. ME: clever + hardworking. AKA SUCKA!!! 😀

    • Whatever! Anyone who loves hacks as much as you do falls into that last category. “SUCKA” my ass! 😉

      Plus we all know you’d rather be perusing Reddit than working hard anyways. 😀

    • Dan

      what?… i was busy on Reddit didn’t catch that…

  • Joel Bertles

    Glad your back! I loved this post man. Im definitely a clever hardworker. How is it affecting my life?It’s making me think through how to be more lazy (but unsuccessfully so far)…. I cant wait for your follow up posts!

    • I think you’ll like where I intend to take this line of thought. I believe both of the Smart groups actually work hard, but only one of them sees hard work as the primary strategy to getting things done. The other group would rather find hacks or other time/work saving solutions to achieve the same results.

      I’m going to start opening up my bag of tricks and showing people the “elegant” solutions I use. Whether or not anyone thinks they are smart, well…we’ll have to see on that one. LOL

    • Joel Bertles

      Lol, I’m excited to hear about them. A guy I work with is trying a speed-reading “class” or program, and I’m considering following suit. I’ll take all the hacks I can get!

    • Ask and it shall be given. 😉

      Here’s a site I use for speed reading all the time:
      Copy/paste the text you want to read into the box on this site. You can adjust the words per minute once you start it. I’ve found that I just leave it on 425 words per minute now and am fine with that.

      Sounds like a freak crazy amount…until you try it. Let me know what you think!

  • *There* you are!

    Me? *Definitely* lazy. I don’t know how clever, though, because I sure as hell ain’t a CEO or anything close. I like that you admit having been part of each group. I can see that I have too.

    I’m so glad to see laziness getting its due. There are so many mindless activities expected of women in particular that never made sense to me, which did not make me popular with certain family members, lol.

    • I have to think that some of the greatest inventions of the past few hundred years were due to laziness (i.e. the desire to have something work…with much less work required). Sure, some people might call it efficiency and comfort, but those don’t make great headlines. 😉

      And I can’t possibly imagine that you were a big fan of the mindless activities. LOL So perfect!

  • All I can say is I’m glad you’re back so I can be lazy, strategic and get rich 😉

  • Liking the blog. I’ll be adding this to my regular reads.

    Who do you use to host?

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  • Mrunmayee Pandhare

    Wow its good one! m definately lazy and clever too (partly i guess) ..though im nt even close to becoming a CEO..dream of becoming one someday.m reading ur blog for the first time! i like it..

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  • I am so glad to come across this post. It puts into context exactly what I have said of myself to other employees and my long time boss. I AM LAZY… that is why I am always looking for an easier, faster, more efficient way to do something… because I don’t to have to ‘WORK’ hard at everything.

    I now need to concentrate and work on my clever part more and find a new way to push past the plateau I have hit these last 2-3 years. Reading your Blogs and information is really going to help. Thanks for making it available.

  • Fascinating article! Things that you have told me before are making more sense. The more I read about how you think and what you read and say has truly been awesome to learn. Thanks for what you share, you clever, lazy man.

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