Choose a Lazy Person To Do a Hard Job Because That Person Will Find an Easy Way To Do It

Bill Gates? Frank Gilbreth Sr., Clarence Bleicher? Walter Chrysler? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

billgates04Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation offering eccentric advice that is often attributed to the billionaire software magnate Bill Gates:

I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

I will always choose a lazy man to do a hard job because a lazy man will find an easy way to do it.

However, a very similar comment has been ascribed to Walter Chrysler who was famous for starting the Chrysler car company:

Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.

Are these really the words of Gates or Chrysler?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. QI has located no substantive support for the claim that Bill Gates or Walter Chrysler made this remark.

The earliest evidence known to QI championing the counter-intuitive adroitness of the lazy man appeared in an article published in “Popular Science Monthly” in 1920. Frank B. Gilbreth Sr. evaluated the motions of workmen to determine the most efficient techniques to perform tasks: 1

Gilbreth studied the methods of various bricklayers—the poor workmen and the best ones, and he stumbled upon an astonishing fact of great importance and significance. He found that he could learn most from the lazy man!

Most of the chance improvements in human motions that eliminate unnecessary movement and reduce fatigue have been hit upon, Gilbreth thinks, by men who were lazy—so lazy that every needless step counted.”

Another important thing Gilbreth noted was that the so-called expert factory workers are often the most wasteful of their motions and strength. Because of their energy and ability to work at high speed, such men may be able to produce a large quantity of good work, and thus qualify as experts, but they tire themselves out of all proportion to the amount of work done.

The above valuable citation was located by librarian Erica Cathers.

Gilbreth’s ideas were influential, and his comments about the “lazy man” probably reached the ears of many managers in industry. In 1947 an automobile executive named Clarence Bleicher testified before a U.S. Senate committee. He was the president of a division of Chrysler Corporation that built DeSoto automobiles. QI hypothesizes that Bleicher’s remarks were refashioned over time to yield the modern quotations. The following excerpt includes a question that was posed by Allen J. Ellender who was a Senator from Louisiana: 2

Mr. BLEICHER. …So if you have got a job that is tough—I have taught my foremen this for some months now—if you get a tough job, one that is hard, and you haven’t got a way to make it easy, put a lazy man on it, and after 10 days he will have an easy way to do it, and you perfect that way and you will have it in pretty good shape. [Laughter.]…

Senator ELLENDER. You say you would put a lazy man on a job to find an easy way to do it. Why would you say a lazy man rather than a hard worker?

Mr. BLEICHER. Because the lazy man will find an easy way to do it. He may not do much, but he will find an easy way to do it. [Laughter.]

Senator ELLENDER. That has been your experience?

Mr. BLEICHER. That has been my experience.

A thematically related viewpoint was expressed by German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord in the 1930s. However, Hammerstein was discussing the selection of military officers, and he assigned the greatest value to individuals who were both lazy and smart. The quotation under examination here does not mention intelligence. The QI entry on the Hammerstein quotation is available here.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A day after the testimony a news service transmitted a story that recounted a streamlined version of Bleicher’s statements. Here is an passage printed in the “Omaha World Herald” of Nebraska: 3

To Solve Hard Problem, Give It to ‘Lazy Man’

Washington (CTPS)—A tip on how to solve difficult production problems was given the Senate Labor Committee Friday by Clarence E. Bleicher, president of the Chrysler Corporation’s De Soto division.

“When I have a tough job in the plant and can’t find an easy way to do it,” Mr. Bleicher said, “I have a lazy man put on it. He’ll find an easy way to do it in 10 days. Then we adopt that method.”

In 1952 the best-selling author Norman Vincent Peale presented a roughly congruent tale of an ostensibly lazy individual who performed hard tasks: 4

I once met a man in a manufacturing plant; he was introduced to me as “our hard job man.” I asked what that meant and was told that whenever there was a hard job in the plant, this was the man they called upon to do it. If everyone else failed, then they called him in…

“I have no genius,” he protested, “In fact, I never saw a hard job in my life. People only think jobs are hard.”…

As he spoke he seemed to give the impression that he was artless, naive, even lazy. But his words and his actions demonstrated as sharp and keen an intellect as I have ever met.

In 1953 “The Speaker’s Treasury of Stories for All Occasions” by Herbert V. Prochnow printed an instance of the quotation credited to Bleicher: 5

THE HARD JOB DONE THE EASY WAY

When I have a tough job in the plant and can’t find an easy way to do it, I have a lazy man put on it. He’ll find an easy way to do it in ten days. Then we adopt that method.
Clarence E. Bleicher

In 1968 Evan Esar included a variant of the saying without attribution in his compilation “20,000 Quips and Quotes”: 6

If you have a tough job to do and want to find out the easiest way to do it, give it to a lazy man and watch him do it.

In 1980 the collection “Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong” promoted the expression up to the level of a law: 7

HLADE’S LAW:

If you have a difficult task give it to a lazy man — he will find an easier way to do it.

By 2007 an instance of the statement had been assigned to Walter Chrysler in a compilation titled “Words from the Wise”: 8

Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.
Walter Chrysler

In conclusion, QI believes that the ideas of Frank Gilbreth Sr. were important in the genesis of this quotation. Clarence Bleicher should be credited with the rough formulation of the quotation based on his 1947 Senate testimony though he was probably influenced directly or indirectly by Gilbreth’s research. Unfortunately, Bleicher did not express the idea in a compact and easily quotable manner. So the wording has evolved over time.

Image Notes: Photo of Bill Gates from dts-nachrichtenagentur.de/nachrichtenbilder on Wikipedia. See license information here. DeSoto 4-Door Sedan 1932. Author: Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden from Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Bruno Yang whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Erica Cathers for sharing the 1920 citation. Many thanks to the ADS discussants on this topic: John Baker, Fred Shapiro, Dave Hause, Jonathan Lighter, Victor Steinbok, and Dan Goncharoff.)

Update history: On February 26, 2014 the 1920 citation was added.

Notes:

  1. 1920 December, Popular Science Monthly, Volume 97, Number 6, “The Man of the ‘One Best Way’: How Frank Gilbreth studies men and their ways” by Fred C. Kelly, Start Page 34, Quote Page 34, McClure, Phillips and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1947, Eightieth U.S. Congress, First Session, Hearings Before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate, Bills S. 55 and S.J. Res. 22, (Testimony of Clarence E. Bleicher on Friday January 31, 1947), Start Page 301, Quote Page 320, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link
  3. 1947 February 1, Omaha World Herald, “To Solve Hard Problem, Give It to ‘Lazy Man’” (CTPS News Service), Quote Page 1, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1952 August 31, Canton Repository, Confident Living by Dr. Norman V. Peale, Quote Page 30, Column 7, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1953, The Speaker’s Treasury of Stories for All Occasions by Herbert V. Prochnow, Quote Page 111, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Quote Page 466, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  7. 1980, Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong, Compiled and Edited by Arthur Bloch, Quote Page 51, Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)
  8. 2007 Copyright, Words from the Wise, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Section: Idle, Unnumbered Page, Skyhorse Publishing, New York. (Google Books Preview)