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Are lazy people the secret to success?

Is it helpful to have lazy people at your work?

Is lazy something you can train your team to harness?

I'm one of the laziest people in my office, no question in my mind. Almost no one believes that. My company is considered "mature" by most standards: we've got a known brand in our market (San Francisco), we've been around for over three decades, and we have many procedures in place for our process.

With each passing year, we see processes that used to be 6 steps become 7 steps. Fast systems become slightly slower. It happens most commonly because of exceptions. Remember that one time that someone didn't _______ and then _____ happened [and the boss got upset]? So from now on we also  _____. That's how it starts. People want to avoid annoyed managers so they add whatever step will pacify them.

Over time, the procedural "scar tissue", steps that happened over time because of a manager that said "be sure to check that, too" become ingrained in each process. A buildup of scar tissue causes the older jogger to run more slowly and with pain, only to be passed by a younger, faster runner.

Eatsa (RIP, but a great idea) was a vegetarian bowl food startup in San Francisco during a thriving venture-backed period of innovation around 2015. It wasn’t so much a restaurant (no tables), not a food truck, not a traditional to-go place because you'd see almost zero humans working inside. It may have been or might as well have been entirely robots. No visible kitchen, just a bunch of stations to take orders, and cubby holes to pick up the to-go food. It had ropes outside its location to handle the long lines of people that formed. The line moved so fast that around 30 feet outside the restaurant was a sign that says "8 minutes from this point" - that's a technique that amusement parks use. But eight minutes is shockingly low for that many people in line.

Once inside, customers were greeted with around 10 iPads mounted on kiosks. You swipe your credit card, then pick your food, then are offered an email address for coupons and your receipt.

Then the fun happens. You watch a screen and see your name on a screen move up at a very noticeable pace. And the opaque glass that covers the cubby holes starts to become translucent, revealing a box with a customer's name displayed electronically on the front of the glass. It's beyond elegant. The customer taps the glass and it opens like a miniature garage door for them to retrieve their food, only to close and become a solid black color again so that you don't actually see what happens when the food gets placed there.

It's a novelty, it's almost theater, it's remarkably fast, tasty and extremely inexpensive. The design permeates the entire process, from line signage, to the frictionless ordering, to the personalization and (literal) transparency of the order processing. There could be 10 people in the back preparing the dishes, or there could be 1, or none. There's no way to know.

The amount of design that goes into this simple meal is anything but simple. But all the complexity is hidden. It's just a frictionless meal experience, and one that certainly generates repeat business and unsolicited word of mouth from blog posts like this.

What does this have to do with laziness? The owners of this new restaurant were hardly phoning it in.

Lazy people don't want to do ANY more work than is absolutely necessary. But here's a neat similarity: neither do consumers. Consumers don't want to type in their credit card number when calling tech support, or find a PIN, or tell you the last four digits of their social security number. They don't want to have to choose from a list of options that may have recently changed, or know which parts of their beverage container are compostable, landfill, or recyclable.

Lazy people just want it to work and work easily, with little cognitive load. So if you aren't thinking like a lazy person, you're likely to miss a key part of the customer experience. This is why they put company executives behind soundproof one-way glass during customer interviews: they can't handle the brutal honesty which is usually people saying "it's hard to do business with your company."

If you build your systems with an eye for laziness, you may find you design tremendously efficient and elegant solutions. If you don't, your systems will include extra forms, check boxes, double checking, security and superfluous questions, and will only grow in complexity over time.


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