There seems to be this commonly held view in society that hard work and effort corresponds to time spent. Everyone’s always looking for the ‘experienced’. People are praised for ‘working hard’ because to the observer, they have just spent 12 hours at the office slogging away over a hot computer.

Indeed, in the office-working culture, ‘face time’ is almost more important to the supervisor than productive output. Experience, duration, persistent repetition. From personal observation, these traits are rewarded and revered by most.

Why is this so? The general answer to questions of this nature tends to be one related to evolutionary adaptation. It is true that the conscientious individual may have had a greater chance of survival than the lazy oaf.

But consider this. The unfaltering devotee accomplishes his goals with a higher probability (you’d imagine) than the lazy drifter. However, the lazy drifter may also accomplish his goals. He may have a flash of inspiration to quickly solve the problem, then get bored and move onto something new. Both have completed their objective, but one is more efficient about it and finishes earlier. The bystander in this situation seems to see the output, but then looks for something more to distinguish between the two types of people. It appears that effort seems to come before intelligence or efficiency in many cases.

Smart guys finish last

This bugs me. I’ve seen people working for hours, staying late and achieving nothing particularly tangible. I’ve seen people come in and out in an hour or two and accomplishing marvellous feats. But apart from rare circumstances when the feat is so wonderful that nobody else can do it, it seems that quite often, the former approach gets a pat on the back whilst the latter gets a slap on the wrist.

Yes, there will always be the workhorses in society, and they are useful to have around and get things done. But I think that too often, an intelligent individual will be overlooked because ‘figuring things out’ is unobservable and ‘doing stuff’ is.

Society needs to learn to work smart, not hard. Sure, conscientiousness is still a good quality to have, but reward people for ingenious solutions, not just stabbing at a problem with a knife until you’ve worn it down. If you allow people time to think and reflect, they might just be able to come up with an original method. If you reward creativity and innovation, progress will follow. At the moment, we seem to be fostering endless static cycles instead.

Time for happiness

In a world where growth has escalated rapidly and we’ve all become richer, the irony is that we’ve created a lack of happiness and life satisfaction. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this wave of growth has also seen people expected to ‘work’ around the clock and slave away for hours. The focus doesn’t seem to be about working smarter, it’s about working more. Quantity over quality.

But apart from making things more efficient, I think allowing people to think more independently will increase sense of achievement far more than expecting them to devote their entire life to a cause. Happiness breeds new ideas and better thinking. Positive reinforcement. To quote Einstein:

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

I really hope that attitudes will evolve over time and we won’t effectively be incentivised to become mindless drones. But I have low expectations.