The New Laziness

Busy-ness (on the Wrong Things) is the new Laziness

“What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?”

Paul Graham

Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

Paul Graham suggests that you can summarize these three questions into “What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?

Seth Godin says that there is a new laziness.

Years ago, laziness was about shirking from physical labour. Avoiding chores.

The New Laziness

Today’s laziness is more insipid. It doesn’t look like physical laziness. In fact, only the individual self can know that they are being lazy. The new laziness is fear based. It is procrastination. It is self-sabotage. It is avoidance of standing out. It is taking the tested path. It is doing what everyone else does and then being frustrated when you get paid the same as everyone else, of how you will be let go when you are 40 and a 20 year old will do the same work, with more energy, and for less money.

“There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practiced in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.” Sogyal Rinpiche

Busy-ness on the wrong things is the new laziness.

Performance Excellence: Deliberate Practice and 3 Models of Mastery

This post includes additional detail to support my post at ActiveGarage blog: Origin of Leaders Pt 3: Learning – Growing through the Crucibles in your life.  It is worth reading that post first for the background and context for this post.

How do we achieve mastery?

Gary Kasparov, Grandmaster

An entrepreneur friend recently commented to me an early conversation he had with a mentor:

“Alex, you have great potential”.
“Do you know what great potential means?”
“You ain’t done nothing yet”.

What does it take to turn potential into mastery?

Malcolm Gladwell has made famous the concept that 10,000 hours of practice leads to world class performance in his book Outliers.  I say this is not true.  There are plenty of people who have amassed over 10,000 hours and they are still poor or mediocre at what they do.  The truth is that these 10,000 hours need to be “Deliberate Practice” in order to achieve excellence.

What is deliberate practice?

“For starters, it isn’t what most of us do when we’re practicing” Geoff Colvin. The key piece of scientific literature on this subject is “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance” by Anders Ericsson.

There are five things that characterize Deliberate Practice:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
  2. It can be repeated a lot
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available
  4. It is highly demanding mentally
  5. It is not fun

There are three fields of human performance where methods for becoming world class have been developed and honed over hundreds of years.

Musicians, Sportsmen and Chess players have found practice models that lead to world class performance based on the inclusion of the 5 aspects of deliberate practice. We can bring these styles of practice into the world of business and leadership.

The Musician Model

Barry Douglas:
Ireland’s top Pianist

Great musicians become great by repeatedly copying others and comparing their results with the results of previous great musicians. Musicians spend much of their life reading and practicing music that is written on sheets.

How does the Musician Model apply to learning to lead?

  • Get to know inspiring community leaders.  How do they live their lives?
  • Read biographies and personal accounts (and blogs) of leaders you respect.
  • Practice reading speeches out loud and get a feel for how great speakers use words and structure

The Chess Model

Excellent chess players play lots, have deep knowledge on openings and expert play, have studied extensively the decisions taken by grandmasters – “what was he seeing that I don’t see?”. It is important that you not only copy, but also reflect on why the master followed this series of moves, what was the underlying strategy?

How does the Chess Model apply to learning to lead?

  • Review the decisions taken by great leaders.  What were they thinking?  Why did they take this particular decision?  What other options did they consider?
  • Always ask a question when in a conference or formal presentation.
  • Formulate your opinions on everything – news, stocks, impact of the iphone on society, most important values for children, role of the MBA, etc
  • “War games” Practice scenarios, what if? How would I respond to X, Y, Z? Prepare.

The Sports Model

Sports success requires intense physical and mental conditioning – keep your mind and body fit. Sports people repeatedly practice the basic physical skills; but this is not enough.  It is vital that performance on the big day of the competition is as high as during the practice.  Sports people need to work on their mind so that their performance under the glare of lights and pressure of competition does not reduce.

There are 4 ways to handle anxiety – top sports stars need to use the mature 2 methods: tolerate or enjoy – in order that their performance is not impaired by pressure.

How does the Sports model apply to learning to lead?

  • Enjoying anxiety or high pressure situations requires a belief system that sees your life as a continual journey of growth as a human being – whether you succeed or fail each pressure moment is an opportunity for growth.  Do you treat pressure moments and critical decisions as opportunities for reflection and growth?
  • Performance under pressure requires that you have practiced the basic moves to a degree to which you can trust yourself to perform – if reading financial statements and making quick judgements is important to your job – practice making these judgements on a daily basis – don’t just wait for your boss or client to ask your opinion.
  • Keep fit – athletes need to be fit, leaders need all the energy they can get.
  • Eat well – fruit and veg better than pizza and beer.
  • Sleep enough – I need 7 hours. I need to read 20 minutes to calm my mind to sleep.


What will your 10,000 hours be?

I take decisions every day, every hour. The decision to play it safe. The decision to be like all the others. The decision to copy how someone else would do it. The decision to work hard at being the same. These are perfectly fine decisions, but they have consequences. The least safe decision in the long term is to seek comfort now. The world will keep changing. Web 2.0, globalization increase the pace at which change is driving through all of our lives. My grandfather’s competition were the other males living in his town. My competition is every Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, Spaniard in the world. There will always be somebody able and willing to do the simple, commodity tasks for less pay. This is inevitable. There is no escape. A sinking ship will eventually sink. I can bail a little. I can pray. I can put up bigger borders. But I cannot stop that the boat will eventually sink. The effort that I put into delaying the sinking is effort that could have gone into making myself not a commodity, into being valuable for me.

What do you want to be doing 20 years from now?  In what domain are you going to accumulate 10,000 hours of deliberate practice?

My free (as of December 2012) Speaking As a Leader Program can help you begin a disciplined practice around public speaking.

How to be more Confident

Fake it.

Yes, pretend.

There are three benefits that grow from you “acting” confident:

  • Attitude follows Behavior: Over time, you become more like you act—self-assured, confident, and convinced of the truth of what you are saying.
  • Emotional Contagion: Walk down an airport corridor and smile, and watch people smile back; change your facial expression to a frown, and you will be met with frowns. Act confident, people respond with confidence in you.
  • Self-Reinforcing Emotions: if you smile and then others smile, you are more likely to feel happy and smile. You may have to act confident and knowledgeable at first, but as others “catch” that feeling, it will be reflected back, making you more confident.
The research is laid out in detail in “Power: Why Some People Have It—And Others Don’t” by Jeffrey Pfeffer.  Pfeffer says that in order to be Powerful it is vital that you appear Powerful.  In the words of Peter Ueberroth: “Authority is 20 percent given, 80 percent taken.” 

Try acting confident for an hour.  How does it feel?  How do people respond?  Try smiling.  Do people respond with smiles?  How do you feel?  Have a great weekend.

    The Origin of Leaders Part 2: Ambition

    On 9th August 2010, Ed Stafford arrived at the sea, having walked the length of the Amazon river. Over 860 days of walking, 20,000 mosquito bites, 5,000 leeches, poisonous spiders and snakes. No boss told him to do it. Nobody paid him for it. Why did he do it? How did he keep going for almost 3 years?

    My 2nd post in the series “The Origin of Leaders” is now live at  I welcome your reflections and comments.

    Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership.

    Writing is among the greatest inventions in human history, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible. Yet it is a skill most writers take for granted. As adults we seldom stop to think about the mental-cum-physical process that turns our thoughts into symbols on a piece of paper.” Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing.

    I talk regularly about Warren Buffett’s 3 most important criteria for success: Integrity, Energy and Intelligence.

    I have blogged about how to have more energy.  This blog post is about improving intelligence.

    How to improve your intelligence

    If you want to improve your intelligence, write stuff down.  Full stop.  Write stuff down, and 6 months from now you have the accumulated intelligence of 6 months of notes, ideas, quotes.

    More valuable perhaps than increased intelligence is the power of writing to reduce my feelings of stress or overwhelm when I confront uncertain or challenging decisions.

    Reflective writing gives me three benefits

    1. Writing slows down time (Mindfulness)
    2. Writing orders my thought (practice improves clear thinking)
    3. Writing allows perspective (separation of subject and object, separation of reason and emotion)

    Habits and Rituals to keep writing as a habit

    In order to develop a habit of reflective writing I would suggest you start with 5 to 10 minute sessions where you dedicate full attention.  Set a timer and remove all sources of interruption.  Close the door, disconnect internet, put mobile on silent.

    I use a pen and paper.  Others use computer.  Whatever you do, the key to getting the benefits is to separate the creative and edit processes.  Reflective writing is about capturing the flow of consciousness as you reflect on the decision, on an error, on a problematic relationship, on how to achieve a certain outcome – and not letting your inner editor get into the process until you have a draft of the ideas down on paper.

    There are times when I have to tell my brain “I will keep writing until I have 500 words on this page and if I have to write the word ‘the’ 500 times then that is what I will do”.  Inspiration comes when I tell my procrastination-oriented lizard brain that I am going to go on writing until I reach my goal.

    Some starting questions to use for reflection

    1. Tell the whole story from other perspectives – put yourself in someone elses shoes and tell the story the way you imagine they might see it.  Improves your imagination – humanity’s most important gift.
    2. What if? – take a fundamental assumption and imagine how things would change if it was not valid
    3. Rants, then reflect on underlying message – let the anger or frustration out and vent on the paper… then review what the source of the anger or frustration really is
    4. Practice conversations – script a difficult conversation
    5. Keep records – track what has happened today
    6. Reflect on your own performance (honestly)
    7. Note quotes, ideas, connections – write down words that impact you from newspapers, books, articles or that you hear from people that you speak to
    8. List good questions – “what other criteria are important to you in taking this decision?” (old post: How to ask the best questions)
    9. Draw diagrams – visually represent the problem, concept, flows
    10. 2×2 matrix – do what consultants do (I would welcome a post from any reader who is a consultant on 2×2 matrices…  :-)
    11. SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
    12. Political maps – draw a network map, reflect on the true organisation power structure
    13. Write about emotion and what the situation looked like when angry, frustrated, dissapointed
    14. Persuade yourself – make the case to yourself
    15. Devil’s Advocate – be your own skeptic
    16. Clear up objectives (realistic, tangible) – what do you really want achieve?  what will it feel like when you achieve the objective?  why is it important to you?
    17. Identify other’s interests, options, BATNA – how can you help other’s achieve their goals?
    18. Re-frame messages – historically, politically, scale up or down, viewed from 5 years in the future
    19. Capture stories – the best way to begin to remember them (Doorman, Cathedral, Tracks in the Sand, Cemetery of Youth, Geronimo the Apache and Entrepreneurs)
    20. Action plans – what are you going to do?  what series of steps take you closer to your goal?  how to engage the people whose support you need?

    And you?
    What other tools, questions, methods do you have for using writing as a tool for reflection?  Do you write regularly?  Why?  or Why not?

    I will finish with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  He was wise.  Although I might add that the over-examined life is a poor alternative – best to experience life than to think about experiencing life.  Reflection on experience is not a complete replacement for fully living today.

    Leadership lessons from the Chile mine rescue

    I watched the rescue of the Chilean miners yesterday morning.  It was an emotional scene. The miners coming one by one hoisted to the surface in a coffin-like metal cage from their cave through 620m of rock.  Each miner arrived to a wave of cheers of “Chi-Chi-Chi… Le-Le-Le… Chile!”.  Each miner reacted in his own particular way – some shouting, some hugging family, some praying.  The second miner out had brought a bag of rocks to hand out as souvenirs to the rescue team.

    If you haven’t seen it, I watched the CNN coverage of the rescue here.  I was inspired by Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s recent post Chile’s President to Luis Urzua “you acted like a good boss”.  His blog is regularly updated with interesting content on leadership and workplace challenges.

    Three people stood out for their leadership in this 69 day odyssey.

    Sebastian Piñera – Chilean President. Announced from day one that Chile’s objective was the rescue attempt and that this was a priority.  He set no dates or deadlines.  He gave no false hopes.  He set a vision but let others define the map.  Second, he ensured that each small win along the way was celebrated – without ever letting the euphoria overtake the hard work still to come.  Clarity of purpose and celebration of the little wins.

    Luis Urzua – the shift supervisor, the leader of the 33 miners trapped underground.  We expect 2 things from our leaders:  competence and compassion.  Competence to do their job well.  Compassion to care for the people they lead.  Luis had both.  He organised the group.  They had defined areas for sleeping, for exercise, for daytime.  They had electric lighting simulating 12 hours day, and switched it off for simulated night.  He rationed the food and set specific eating times.  He brought a small predictability for the miners confronting a massive uncertainty.  He was compassionate.  He ate last, and ate least.  He was the last to leave the mine.  When he emerged, President Piñera said to him “You acted like a good boss“.  Competence and compassion.

    Mario Gomez – the eldest of the trapped miners.  He was the leader of the parties, of the fun videos that the miners had made during their ordeal.  He took a leading role as spiritual guide to the miners.  He ensured that fun and enthusiasm was part of every day.  In a situation of such tension, these moments of fun were so important in keeping up hope and maintaining morale. The importance of fun.

    When 63 year old Mario Gomez emerged he spoke on camera with the Presidents of Chile and Brazil.  He said: “Sometimes you need something to happen to really reflect that you only have one life. I am changed, I am a different man.

    The biggest lesson, my simple reflection…  33 people faced an extreme situation and kept their humanity. They kept hope.  Chile dedicated its resources and achieved a big deal.  They kept faith.  We are capable of much more than we know.  Chile showed its best under extreme situations.  In this extreme event each leader, each politician, each boss, each person sought to serve others, to do the right thing. It was a moment worthy of celebration.

    Lessons of Leadership:

    • Discipline provides predictability in an uncertain world
    • Leadership is a team sport
    • Marathon not sprint
    • Celebrate small wins
    • Compassion, Own needs last
    • Fun makes life worth living

    Five telltale signs of a workplace that needs more courage

    I spent a few days of my summer visiting Asheville, North Carolina and spending time with a friend.  I got to visit “America’s largest private house” – the Biltmore Estate, built by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who had made his fortune in railways.

    My friend, Bill Treasurer has spent his life exploring, living and writing about Courage.  Courage, according to Aristotle, is the first virtue – because it makes all the other virtues possible.

    In his recent book Courage Goes to Work, Bill tells us that Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to perform in the presence of fear.  Bill believes that courage is a teachable and learnable skill; and that everyone has the capacity to be courageous.

    According to Bill, there are five telltale signs of a workplace that needs more courage:

    1. Covering your tail rules the day: Workers spend an inordinate amount of time covering their tails and generating “proof” that they are doing their jobs.
    2. The Emperors are Naked: Leaders are insulated from employee feedback and dangerously blind to themselves.
    3. Bean-Counters Rule: Financial acumen is valued more than creativity or innovation, causing decisions to be driven solely by “the numbers” versus what is in the long term best interests of the organisation.
    4. People are Hung for making smart mistakes: Mistakes are punished swiftly and harshly, creating a “play it safe at all costs” environment.  Workers end up hiding mistakes or, worse, blaming others for their own mistakes.
    5. Everything is perpetually urgent.  The work environment in fear-based organisations is fraught with urgency and anxiety.  In such places, regardless of their roles, everyone seems to have the same job: firefighter!
    If some of these five signs resonate with you have a look at Bill’s article on “The three kinds of Executive Courage” on Forbes or his free summary of the book at his website

    Dustin Johnson, not Thierry Henry will save our Economy

    I watched the world’s top golfers play in the prestigious PGA tournament over the last 4 days. This is one of the top 4 prizes in world golf and a massive achievement for the overall winner.  Winning a “major” is a vital brick in the career of the world’s top golfers.

    I want golf and not football as a values system for life.

    Dustin Johnson was leading coming into the last of 72 holes and needed only a four shot par to win.  His first shot ended out in the area where a large crowd was gathered.  His second shot was from a rough scrub area in a sandy patch.  He touched the ground with his club before making his swing and striking the ball.  He ended the hole with 5 shots.  This left him in a tie for first place with two other golfers.  He still had a chance to win one of golf’s great prizes (and a lot of money).  As he waited, a rules official approached him and told him that the second shot that he hit from the sandy patch had infringed upon the rules.  After reviewing the situation, Dustin Johnson took out his eraser, rubbed out the 5 he had scored on hole 18 and wrote in the number 7 – in one self-regulated moment taking away his dream of victory.

    I was struck by a massive disconnect between the attitude of the players in golf’s “world cup” and the recent FIFA football world cup in South Africa.

    The world’s children grow up looking for role models that drive their developing value systems and aspirations and ideas of what a good life looks like.  I believe that sports stars attitudes translate directly into children’s beliefs about what is appropriate behaviour in life.

    The French football team were a particularly pathetic example of poor attitude, cheating being ok, laziness and lack of respect for everyone else: countrymen, coaches and the referees.  The team should not have been there in the first place having beaten the Irish in a game where Thierry Henry handled the ball into the Irish goal net in plain view of all the world’s video cameras – but not the game’s referee.  When the referee gave the goal there was uproar from the Irish team.  Thierry and his mates in the post-match interviews did not deny that their victory was a victory of blatant cheating.  Every Irish and French boy watched this.  Every Irish and French boy saw what the football authorities think is ok – if the cheating is undetected by the referee then it is ok.

    The world’s most talented football players spend a lot of time falling over without being touched and arguing with the referee over each and every decision.

    Once at the world cup, the french team truly delivered a performance that embarassed every french person that I know.  Nicolas Anelka, the captain had a poor attitude in training and was sanctioned by the coach.  He publicly insulted the coach.  He was taken out of the team and sent home.  The rest of the team went on strike and didn’t show up to practice.  The coach refused to shake hands with coaches from other teams believing that they had insulted him.  All in all, a ten out of ten score for pathetic performance. (French team world cup summary on BBC)   The French president was so insulted by this group of fools representing their country that he called them in for a meeting to explain themselves.  Two were sanctioned for sex with an underage girl about a week later.

    We are currently in a global financial crisis brought upon by banks doing what they could get away with (like the French football team) rather than what they knew to be right (like the golfers).  I often hear the claim that we need more regulation.  Football won’t change by putting 2 referees on the field.  It will only change when the culture of football rejects cheating and ostracizes those that regularly cheat.

    The financial services answer is not more regulation – it is about making sure that the 10, 11 and 12 year old children growing up today see more sports stars with the attitude of Dustin Johnson than Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka and when bankers celebrate great client service (that was the point of them wasn’t it) rather than publish lists of how much money each dealmaker has scraped together.  Goldman Sachs looks more like french football than US golf.  I hope that the generation of 10 year olds of today forget about Thierry Henry and remember Dustin Johnson – and 20 to 30 years from now, when they are running Goldman Sachs – they will live with some basic values (not asking for charity; just not lying, not cheating and not stealing) – rather than defining “not illegal” as their operating boundary.

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