High Achievers Need to Slow Down

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was a German general who was an open opponent of Hitler and the policies of the Nazi regime. Back in the 1930s, he created a classification scheme for his officers, for picking staff for the different positions in his German army command. He said, “I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually, two characteristics are combined.” 

Based on these four types, he created the following 2×2 matrix:

He further added, “Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

For the ones who were clever and lazy, he said, “Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions.”

Most of the high achievers I have known (including myself) are clever folks. We are smart people. Yet, 90% of our tribe would end up being ‘General Staff’ in Hammerstein’s army. We think busyness is a virtue. Our ego loves busy work. We are constantly running on the busyness wheel directing the right things to happen. We worship our quality of being industrious. We are always driving in the fast lane. We believe life is a hustle. If we are not doing something, we’ll be left behind. We do everything ourselves. We fill up our calendars with busy work.

I remember my days back in college when I used to precisely plan the (read: minimal) effort for my studies. Some would term me as lazy, others would condemn me for not increasing my efforts in the expectation of an even better result. I would schedule plenty of time off during my exam days. In spite of my ‘laziness’ quality, I would often top my class. In my corporate career, I carefully identified and communicated my boundaries, and still ended up giving more value in a day than what most people would deliver in a week. But somewhere, unconsciously, when I became an entrepreneur I forgot this virtue of laziness. Hammerstein’s classification came as a timely reminder to me when I needed it the most.

Today’s work environment is obsessed with productivity and efficiency. What the world has taught us is to overwhelm our days with tasks and activities. We have been conditioned to work hard. Every minute is so precious that we get pulled into the vortex of constantly doing something. As a result, we reward spending an inordinate amount of time staring at screens, emails, and scheduling meetings. We constantly hustle and end up living in an over-amplified and excessively complicated world with commitments that keep competing for our focus, energy, intellect, emotions, and body.

Here’s what we need to understand – plain and simple hard work, by itself, leads to exhaustion. Growing up, we have been conditioned to hard work and constant doing. By being clever, yet utilizing your energies being diligent will take you to a point where you’ll eventually be replaced. There is plenty of manpower in the General Staff. What we really need, as high achievers, to move up to the next level, is to embody the aspect of ‘laziness’ into our beings. Laziness does not mean unwilling to work. It literally means slowing down. Slowing down enables you to be more sensitive to the dynamics and needs of yourself and those around you.

… When you slow down you aren’t a part of the crazy speed contest that will lead you to nothing but accidents. 

… When you slow down you can think more clearly. You remain peaceful without losing yourself in the circus of modern life.

… When you slow down you start making things simple. 

… When you slow down you become effective, not efficient. 

… When you slow down you consider the price you’ll be paying in the future for saying yes to something today.

… When you slow down you risk your current success to get to the next level.

… When you slow down, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, more paths and opportunities unfold before you. 

… When you slow down you bring fortuitous connections into play. 

… When you slow down you start making the right things happen, in the easiest possible manner.


So, what do you gain by going faster anyway? A guaranteed spot in the General Staff!

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