Enlightened Conflict

hard work & smarts & laziness & leaders

April 13th, 2010

“There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm…Second, there are the hard- working, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard- working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

General Erich Von Manstein

mansteinEvery once in awhile you come across an intriguing quote from an unexpected source. Von Manstein was a Prussian general. I don’t know. I guess I never thought a Prussian would link laziness to any possible option for positive words or beliefs.

And I guess I find it interesting that a general would recognize the aspects of leadership so well.

One implication he certainly communicates is that you want to build the average intelligence up in your organization (regardless of their work ethic).

Another implication is the interesting mix of thinkers and doers and the common characteristics within an effective “officer group” (think management team in an organization).

Regardless, he is suggesting the best staff (organization) is a mix of lazy & hard working intelligent people (boy … I wish I could have had Erich visit a couple of business owners I have known).

I would imagine I find this interesting because in today’s world I feel organizations tend to reward diligence more so than smarts, or intellectual curiosity, and certainly more so than ‘laziness’ (even of you are smarter than a whip).

Current business operations acumen is one of which reward and evaluation systems dominate. And that is regardless of the actual importance of thought and reflection to the long term organization’s success (despite the fact thought/reflection has been proven to wither in an evaluation/reward system).

So. To translate. In our world you are better off looking busy than looking like you are thinking thereby organizations encourage diligence at the expense of reflection/laziness.lazy_worker_small1

This even though “reflection” can be fulfilling intellectual curiosity by gathering information and gathering facts and things like that (so you could be more effective “hard working”).

Thinking, reflection or even ‘laziness’ isn’t acceptable in the working world today because it isn’t “productive.” Or measurable. Or can be counted (this is a parallel with my ‘not everything that can be counted counts’ post).

Hey. I have been tempted throughout this entire post to be sarcastic or be cynical and I believe I have been very good at avoiding it up to this point (just want to point all of that out. Don’t worry. I think in my next post I will make up some of the ground I just lost on the cynical battlefront).

Anyway. Every once in awhile we can look to some past learning and gain some insights for today. Even from some guy who looks like he has a stick up his ass and hasn’t smiled in his entire life. Oh. But could manage an army to kick any army’s butt it fought. So. Maybe this guy knew what he was talking about.


One Coment

  • Gerd Schmidt says on: January 25, 2014 at 11:54 pm


    Funny you should come up with one of my favourite quotes. General von Manstein was perhaps the greatest general of WWII. He got shit done. I have lived by his insight for practically my whole life. It started in school. I am left handed, and found it impossible to keep up with the class because due to the fact, that they tried to switch me to be right handed just wasn’t able to perform. So I started to cheat (creatively), with great success for two years, until a teacher finally caught me. He was a very nice man , and instead of punishing me , he went to see my mother,to tell her, that in his entire life had he never seen a child my age (8) coming up with a clever scheme like mine. He then started to pay attention to me.

    So for all my life I tend to spend hours to figure out an elegant way to perform a task, rather than banging my way by brute force. The result is, that I have invented a plethora of gadgets and methods of work to make my life easy.

    When I was young the Canadian military offered me a career as an officer after I wrote a battery of tests. I never understood why, being such a lazy bastard. Then I came across Manstein’s quote, and then I knew. They must have shaped their tests to find guys like me.
    I’m retired now, and have achieved some financial success, with out ever working very hard.
    So there you are.

    P. S. I am born in Germany.
    Gerd Schmidt

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