The easy solution for every problem

John Ostrowski
Management Consultant
Vancouver, Washington

If we want to solve all of the world's problems, we need to put the lazy people in charge. But wait, you say, aren't they already in charge? No, not by a long shot. We've been putting the energetic people in charge for a long time and look where it's gotten us. We need to start following the advice of one of my university professors who explained how engineers ought to think. He said, "Engineers should be lazy. They should look for the easiest way to do things."

Think of how much better things would be if the people in charge always looked for the easiest way to do things. Procedures would be simpler and efficiency would be greater. You might think that wouldn't be the case with lazy people, but you'd be wrong. Take for instance the notion that a good manager can get done what needs to be done in 30 hours a week. What does the efficient person do with the extra 10 hours or more that they actually spend on the job? The lazy person would go home and leave well enough alone. I know what I did with the extra time, however. I hung around and caused trouble. You may find yourself doing the same thing.

But wait, you again say, shouldn't we be led by Type A personalities who are always trying to do more than two things at once? That might be okay if that Type A person is also lazy. If they're not, they have even more time than the rest of us to get in trouble. And even worse, cause trouble for the rest of us.

There'd be a lot less stress in the world if we had more lazy people in charge. Take elected officials for example. We seldom vote for someone who hasn't done anything while they've been in office, but isn't that the hallmark of good government? Didn't Thomas Jefferson say that the government that governs least governs best? (There's some debate about what he said exactly, or if Thomas Paine or Henry David Thoreau said it first, but it doesn't matter.) What better way to get better government than to elect lazy people? Lazy people would come up with less legislation and more good time-saving ideas. This in turn would lessen stress for all of us. Think about how worked up people get watching television news or listening to talk radio. If politicians weren't doing anything, there'd be nothing to get worked up about.

Some time ago, I proposed a constitutional amendment in Washington State to require legislators to stay home and collect their pay unless they tried to gather and legislate, in which case they'd be fined for such effort. It would have to be a pretty important thing to make them lose money by legislating. I now realize that a side benefit of this amendment would be that it would draw more lazy people toward elected office because of the obvious efficiency of being paid for doing nothing.

What would we do with all of the non-lazy people? We'd put them to work. They like it and they do it well. They just need some direction from lazy people who know that it's not worth working on everything and therefore know how to prioritize. Think of how productivity would increase if the people who were actually working were working on only the most important things. Before you know it, disease and poverty would be eliminated and war would be a thing of the past. Crime would be non-existent since we all know that it doesn't pay, so lazy people wouldn't pursue it and non-lazy people would be directed toward more rewarding endeavors.

So now you're asking, "How do we get the ball rolling on this thing?" The first, second and third thing you do is nothing. Keep doing it and eventually someone will notice and maybe put you in charge. If not, at least you haven't wasted your time doing something that wasn't important.

  • Lesson 1: If you've read this far, you've already relearned a valuable lesson. Most people only read the headline and first paragraph of anything. If you want them to get farther into the article, you have to make it interesting. On the other hand, you may be reading this part because you're the type of person who jumps right to the bulleted information.

  • Lesson 2: If you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny anymore, or wasn't in the first place. A parable, however, might require some explanation. That's why I'm pointing out the point of what you just read so you're sure to get the lesson I intended rather than what you thought I intended. Remember that it doesn't matter what I said, it matters what you heard.

  • Lesson 3: Sometimes we need to look at things from another perspective to understand it better and find creative solutions. The wilder the perspective, the more you leave your biases behind. A world run by lazy people won't happen but if it did, what would it look like. Maybe lazy people would be more efficient.

  • Lesson 4: A lazy person is hard-wired for cost/benefit analysis. If government were biased toward cost/benefit and priority setting, we'd get more of the important stuff done at less cost.
You may have learned even more lessons, but these are the four I wanted you to get. If you think there's more to be learned here, you can reach me through my website at where you can also read my monthly monologue. If you do that, you'll have to type all those characters into your web browser and that just might be enough to stop you. This will cause you to learn the bonus Lesson 5 which is that changing human behavior requires us to make the new behavior either fun or easy. If that doesn't work, we have to force people to follow the new behavior and that takes much more effort. A good lazy person would know better than to even think of trying that.

John Ostrowski spent 17 years as the Public Works Director in Vancouver, Washington. He was a member of the APWA Engineering and Technology Committee in 1996-97. He can be reached at (360) 573-7594 or at