Lazily Yours

Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management proposed theory X and theory Y of management in his book The Human Side of Enterprise. In theory X, management assumes that employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can and that they inherently dislike work. In theory Y, management assumes that employees are self-motivated and exercise self-control. Work is natural like play and rest. These are two different approaches about management’s perception of employees.

Theory X managers rely heavily on threat and coercion to gain their employees’ compliance. Belief in this theory results in mistrust and restrictive supervision. This style of management is criticised bitterly, though practiced in many organisations, institutions and even at homes.

People consider laziness as a bad trait though it is natural to humans. Our brain tries short-cuts born out of habits instead of evaluating situations before responding. We are happy with status-quo rather than bring beneficial changes. Khalil Gibran says in Prophet

Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

We typically accept the default settings in gadgets and applications. Our user name and password are admin/admin or root/root if they are so provided when the application is installed. How often do we read the terms before we click the box on screen or fine prints to ‘Accept the Terms and Conditions?’  We are not aware of hundreds of terms that we blindly bind to. We seldom know the default settings and don’t know that we have options to change some features or to turn them off. We take them to be part of essential features. We live with several distracting bells and whistles on our PC, which affect our efficiency. So much for personalisation from the bottom of pyramid.

Making international phone calls with Skype is cheap and convenient. My balance in Skype account was dwindling. Then, unexpectedly ten Euros were credited to my Skype account, debited to my credit card. When I saw my Skype settings, to my surprise, I had agreed that the balance could be replenished automatically.

A directive about organ donation in case of accidental death is noted on driving licence in many countries. Quoting Daniel Kahneman from Thinking, fast and slow, “an article published in 2003 noted that the rate of organ donation was close to 100% in Austria but only 12% in Germany; 86% in Sweden but only 4% in Denmark.” These are pairs of neighbouring countries with similar culture. The big difference in organ donation is caused by the format of the question. In Austria and Sweden, people have to deliberately opt out if they do not want to donate organs. In Germany and Denmark, they have to check a box to become a donor. Human laziness makes citizens of one country benevolent and the other lacking compassion.

A decade ago, when we got a phone connection, it was STD-barred and ISD-barred. Many people with phone at home went to public call booths to make long distance calls rather than enabling STD/ISD facility. Now the connections come with STD/ISD enabled, which we can bar if we want. Hardly anyone does so.

During the Second World War, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman was working on a project to develop the atomic bomb. Feynman made significant contributions, but his stories are mostly about safe-breaking and lock picking. He was very suspicious of the security regime, which said that everything should be locked away, but then provided inadequate secure filing cabinets. So, in his spare time, Feynman set about breaking into as many cabinets as he could. When safes were shipped to the site, the combinations were set to a default value – known as try-out combination. Feynman found that about one case in five, these were left unaltered. If you want to rob a bank, find out the default settings of their combination locks. You would have free access to the bank lockers 20% of the times.

Chandrakant’s blog states,  “why is it that students remain mired in mediocrity? We all start off by studying hard, with stars in our eyes. We gradually succumb to bare minimum work and rationalisation. Why do we look at each other, and if we see others not studying, we too stop studying? Who is the Indian crab? Not the other students – but our own mind. We do not let others study, and we ourselves do not study.”

“Laziness is the quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer.” Larry WallProgramming Perl

Larry Wall says that he developed Perl language to promote laziness, impatience and hubris. We beat him by being lazy even to learn Perl-like languages and instead work the hard way, a side-effect of laziness.

Richard Feynman quotes his father, “things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called ‘inertia’, but nobody knows why it’s true.”

Those of us who push and overcome inertia make the changes.


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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