Our son graduated from college prep school this summer. Of course, this event made me as a father very happy and proud. And inevitably, it reminded me of my own graduation time and of my classmates back then. One of them is still very present in my memories: Let´s call him Horst.
An arm in plaster cast helps to graduation
Horst had never been particularly diligent. Nor did he shine because of an extra ordinary intellect. He impressed by sympathy … and smartness. He was in dire straits when his last Latin test approached in 11th grade. He had to pass in order to advance to the last phase of prep school. He knew that his chances for passing were close to zero. What to do? Study hard, day and night? He decided in favor of an alternative strategy. He convinced the family doctor that he was truly suffering from bad pain in his right hand (he is right handed). Somehow sprained, or broken, maybe. Well, the doctor put the arm in plaster cast. The rest is history. Horst could not and did not need to take the Latin test; the school year closed. Horst advanced and finally graduated. After graduation, we lost sight of each other.
Courage to not do things
During our last class reunion I met Horst again. He had had finished University with a teacher´s degree, and then he had changed his course: by now he is an entrepreneur, leads his own asparagus wholesale business, runs raspberry plantations, and ... and…. He enjoyed telling stories – without cockiness – about laying his feet high for months during wintertime, or playing soccer with his kids in his basement soccer court. How he spends time for things that are important and valuable to him. He evaluates which kind of risk he takes by omitting doing things. Then he takes a decision. He, again and again, has the courage to not do things that don´t deem important or valuable to him. He does not own a yacht. But I perceived him as very well balanced and satisfied. Why am I telling this story?
Is the font size correct?
I wished we had more of these “I know what really matters” characters in our companies. As bosses, too. People who have the guts to just cancel out things that are maybe interesting, but not really important or value-add. Omit them. Take calculated risks. Not be perfect when perfection is not needed. How much better will be the quality of a decision truly be, if we add this or that labor-intensive analysis? How much will the risk truly increase, if I just trust my belly feeling, rather than buying and digging through all available market studies? Is it really important that the numbers of the growth curve for the year 2025 on page 3 are consistent to the decimals with the numbers stated on PowerPoint slide #36? Or even worse: is the font size correct?
Will the enterprise become more valuable by doing this?
Companies with profitability problems often share the same mistake: they are doing too many things customers don´t pay them for. Maybe these are things the boss wants us to do? Maybe these are reports that we do – anticipating what somebody in senior management might ask for some when – and I hope to improve my own promotion chances by being prepared? Maybe it is because of the way we judge employee performance, recognizing industriousness and overtime work more than efficiency? There are many reasons for worthless activities. But for sure, our companies will not become more valuable by doing them.
Organizations also need the smart “lazy ones“
I wished that our organizations had more managers and employees that are lazy from time to time, but still have the smartness to finish things that are truly important and value-add. When daily industriousness takes over, may it would be better sometimes and lay our feet high, and think about this very topic: of all the things we are doing, which are the things that are just valuable from a “keeping-busy-therapeutically-point-of view”? And which one are the chores that truly increase the company value? And then – after having evaluated the risk – just not do certain things, or do them differently.
Dare to look for simpler ways
Dear decision takers in promotion matters: why don´t dare to skip from time to time the traditional target profile of “the perfect manager”. Organizations not only need logically thinking, well structured diligent managers and employees. Companies also need some smart “lazy ones”, who think outside the box, who dare to question the status quo, and who look for simpler ways. Individuals like Horst.