IN PRAISE OF LAZINESS
Posted February 15, 2002 01:01 PM Pacific Time
RECENTLY, I GAVE a keynote address entitled "The Future of IT
Management" at a software user conference, and one of the primary topics
was the qualities of an effective IT department. The list included items you
wouldn’t necessarily think about. Responsive? No. Hard working? Well, not
exactly. Humble? Not really. My unlikely list included laziness, impatience, and
hubris. Up front, I will admit that this list is not my own. Randall Schwartz,
the man behind the Perl programming language, originally listed these attributes
as qualities you should look for in a top programmer. Applied to an entire IT
department, these qualities hold equally and surprisingly true when you dig
beneath their superficial meanings.
Why laziness? Schwartz defined laziness as "the quality that makes you
go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure." He goes on to say
that laziness "makes you build stable, labor-saving systems that other
people will find useful, and document what you did so you don’t have to answer
so many questions about it." In my experience, the worst IT departments are
those where the staff are running around breathlessly solving a rapid-fire list
of problems. Even the best IT departments have bad days, but if your staff
regularly sprint through the office from issue to issue, they probably need to
take a lazier, more long-term approach.
If your staff is lazy, they only want to solve problems once (hey, it is less
work in the end), so they will feel motivated to systematically determine the
source of a problem, solve it, document it, and put it to rest for good. If
necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is the mother of innovation.
Granted, if problems abound in your IT operation and your staff will not lift a
finger to solve them, they are engaged in the most base form of laziness. But
within the proper context, laziness should be encouraged and even
Schwartz defined impatience as the anger you feel when the computer is being
lazy, a quality that "makes you build systems that don’t just react to your
needs, but actually anticipate them." This type of impatience is closely
related to laziness in that the impatient IT staffer is not only too lazy to
want to fix the same problem multiple times, he or she also builds systems that
predict future problems before they happen. For some, this kind of impatience is
known as "vision," a nagging sense that there has to be a better way
to do something than the current way it is being done. The entire computing
industry is predicated on this kind of impatience, as Moore’s Law indicates.
Hubris, or excessive pride, the third quality of a top-performing IT
department, is "the quality that makes you build — and maintain — systems
that other people won’t want to say bad things about." Considered in this
context, this level of internal pride is really more about a sense of ownership
and accountability than arrogance. (For a refresher on unproductive arrogance,
The prideful IT staffer implementing a new CRM system for the sales department
doesn’t want the sales team to think he or she is incompetent or unskilled, so
the staffer puts in the extra effort and thought to make sure all aspects of the
system will function as intended.
Ultimately, the lazy, impatient, and prideful IT department will lead your
company to the kind of IT efficiency and service that a blindly hard-working,
patient, and unconfident department cannot bring you. Although these qualities
are never mentioned in typical management how-to books, I think Randall Schwartz
has it right.
Don’t be too lazy to write Chad Dickerson, InfoWorld’s
CTO, about qualities to look for in IT staffers.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.