Have you ever been on a team at work or school and there’s that one team member who just won’t contribute or do any of their own thinking, leaving you or other members with the responsibility of doing their work for them?
Or maybe (*gasp*) you ARE one of those non-thinkers?
In this post, I want to talk about why it’s dangerous to be intellectually lazy and what you can do to 1) Get out of the rut and turn your life around if you are one of those people or 2) Set your boundaries and encourage behavior changes if you are a person who intellectually lazy people tend to depend on.
As an entrepreneur and marketer, I’ve come across many people and situations where clients, colleagues, or customers look to me to do the work and the thinking for them. Now, it’s fine to ask people for advice and we should all expect to work with others and be helpful. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to give it!
But, you need to be careful about distinguishing between something that you have no way of learning yourself versus something that simply takes a little bit of your own brain power and effort to figure out.
There are some things that we are all capable of, no matter your intellectual capacity, and those of us who do our own thinking instead of delegating to someone else and making it their problem can spot a lazy thinker from a mile away.
MANAGER’S NOTE: Using your own brain power is SUPER important when you have team members or managers that have a lot of responsibility (this includes pretty much all of us who are not retired yet).
You’ll be seen as a weak link if you can’t take care of the easy stuff on your own because you might be making others’ work more difficult than necessary. Being this kind of thinker will have many implications for your work relationships, career opportunities, potential business partnerships, and even personal relationships.
Intellectual laziness leads to:
- Low ceiling for your career and promotions
- Replacement in the workforce by an active, lifelong learner (you need to be a thinker to compete in the modern economy)
- Feelings of inferiority
Essentially, it makes you replaceable. And that’s not good in a personal finance, got-to-pay-the-bills kind of way.
What does it mean to be intellectually lazy?
There are a lot of behaviors that might qualify as intellectual laziness, but I want to focus on the few areas that might be affecting your career the most. Here are four of the main behaviors we need to work on eliminating right here. Right now. Today.
- An intellectually lazy person often hands their thinking responsibilities off to someone else who they feel can do it better. They don’t believe they can deliver satisfactory results themselves and might want to save themselves from any harsh judgement that might result in them owning their own decisions.
- An intellectually lazy person will often ask questions that have already been answered or are clearly covered in some kind of written correspondence or guide. They have little attention to detail and would rather take another person’s time to get the answer they need than spend their own time looking for the answer themselves.
- An intellectually lazy person only consumes condensed versions of information, such as blog posts or headlines and neglects to fact check or read long form articles from unbiased sources. The result is often the possession of opinions and perspectives that are a filtered version of someone else’s (most likely non-qualified) and is tainted by misinformation due to lack of research.
- An intellectually lazy person might lack the discipline, focus, or experience required to truly hear others, consume content, and understand what they’ve taken in to apply the information to their work or life.
How to change non-thinking behaviors
One of the first actions you need to take is accept that your cognitive abilities and actions are not a result of circumstance but a result of habits and behaviors, which you can change…like RIGHT NOW kind of change.
Something I want to ask you to adapt is a Growth Mindset. The Growth Mindset has changed the way that successful businesspeople, educators, and social scientists approach challenges and was pioneered by Stanford professor, Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset”. Her research-backed idea is that you can actually grow your brain’s ability to learn and solve problems.
Here’s a growth mindset meditation that we put together. I’d love for you to try it out if you are struggling with self-limiting perspectives on talent and intelligence.
Some other ways to build your confidence and brain power include:
- Take online courses. Like, actually take them. Don’t just pay for it and not take it (believe it or not, this is what most people do).
- Read, read, and read more. People who don’t read simply aren’t as intelligent as those who do. Reading can help you get ahead in your field, get re-inspired and motivated, and teach you to be a better writer -all things that are essential for career success. A lot of the most successful entrepreneurs and managers are avid readers. You can easily find recommended reading lists from almost any successful business person online. Like this list of Elon Musk’s favorite books.
- Find intelligent news sources. Our minds are constantly inundated with non-news “news” sources through excessive use of social media. Find out what the smartest of the smarty pants are paying attention to and refer to those sources directly instead of Facebook or Twitter to stay up-to-date with world events. This is not unrelated to career success! The journalists that get real estate in our brains affect our worldview, which has a direct influence on our attitudes and abilities at work. Filling your brain with conspiracy theories and click bait headlines will make your mind cloudy. Put quality content into that beautiful brain of yours! We love NPR, for example.
- Practice listening to others and responding thoughtfully.
- Resist the urge to pass off your responsibilities to a high achiever. Do whatever you need to do to complete your share of the work and collaborate with your teammates or manager. That might mean working late, doing some additional reading, or getting additional help in some other way.
- Know what your strengths are. If you find yourself contributing the least at work, try to focus on providing help in the areas in which you are skilled. It’s also good for your manager to know so they can create effective teams where you feel (and are) valuable. If you think you don’t have a strength, work on building those right now (see: online courses).
- Exercise your brain as much as possible. Find thinking activities that you like to do in your spare time like puzzles, crosswords, or problem solving video games. Your brain is a lot like any other muscle in your body: it’s completely miserable trying to work it out when it’s out of shape, but it becomes fun when it is in shape and high performing.
How to fend off a non-thinker
The upside is that almost no one INTENDS to be a non-thinker. Most of the time, intellectual laziness stems from lack of confidence and fear of being wrong. It’s important for those who are intellectually active to have empathy for those with a different mindset but not allow the mundane thinking tasks of others to be rested on their own, busy shoulders.
There are, however, some ways to handle those moments when a team member is trying to steal your bandwidth for something that shouldn’t be your responsibility:
- Send them in the direction of a resource that might help them rather than filling in all the blanks for them.
- Communicate the value of your time, it’s already limited nature, and how much responsibility you already have.
- Give compliments and positive feedback when it’s deserved. This will encourage your teammate’s performance and make them feel less dependent.
- Clearly mark a good chunk of your day as quiet work time to limit disturbances and interruption.
- Never do all the work for them. This sets a bad standard and encourages repeated delegation onto your already full plate.
Are you struggling with feeling capable at work or with the added weight of a teammate who won’t help carry the load? Tweet at me and let’s have a conversation about your frustrations.