There is a maxim of work and leadership that I’m sure we’ve all heard before. Ever since Steve Jobs used it in Apple ads, it has become a business mantra heard almost daily in office suites and on factory floors. It is this: work smarter, not harder.
We all know what this means. We should execute wiser strategies and better technologies to achieve our goals. We shouldn’t just keep hammering away stupidly like a man with a dull ax who won’t stop his chopping to sharpen his tool.
The problem for most leaders is that they don’t know how to arrive at “smarter.” This is where I want to offer some help.
I believe the reason most leaders don’t arrive at “smarter” is that it takes time. It requires pulling away from the press of the immediate to ponder, reflect, and redesign.
Most of the leaders I work with tell me that they are too busy to think creatively about what they do. I understand and I have compassion, but this approach is just ignorant.
Imagine that you step into a room you’ve never been in before. A handful of men and women are in panic mode. They are scurrying around, shouting instructions to each other, and busying themselves with their work. Finally, one of them tells you that you have to help. They tell you that it is essential that you open and close the curtains on a window at a steady rate. They show you where the cords are, they tell you what your pace should be and they leave you to it. Oh, they tell you that you’ll need to do this every day in just the same way or things will really be a mess. So, you begin.
Now, imagine yourself doing this for years without ever asking why. Keep in mind that you didn’t design your work in light of clear goals. You merely merged into a system. You inherited your task, your pace, and the culture of panic about what you do.
This is what most people do. They work as they’ve been told to work. They do what has always been done. They never stop to ask the “Why Questions” that allow smarter ways of working to emerge.
Now, this may be fine for some roles—I’m glad my airline pilot is following prescribed, proven ways of flying! —but it is not what most leaders should do. Leaders must examine what is being done and ask why. Leaders must ever be analyzing the present in light of future goals. Leaders are supposed to make the changes that lead to working smarter, not harder nor in the ways they have always been done.
Again, the price is time. If you can’t tame your schedule to find time to reflect on what you do, then you won’t arrive at smarter strategies. Remember this: The enemy of innovation is frantic pace. The incubator of innovation is reflection from a restful distance.
That it. Have a good weekend. And work smarter, not harder.