Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Harder or smarter?


We Finns are a nation of hard workers. Since childhood we've been taught that it's the hard work that pays off. Our Lutheran heritage, wartime hardships and long periods of darkness are just a number of reasons why we think through is the only way "past the grey rock" (Finnish saying).

The problem is that we're no longer grinding ship axles, cutting wood or even building mobile phones. It's not about muscle and punch clocks anymore. It's about brain and around the clock now.

If we fail to understand this, we'll work ourselves to death.

Some of you might've heard The Tale of Two Lumberjacks. Here's one variation of it:

Once upon a time there were two lumberjacks who had an argument.

"I'm the best lumberjack", stated Kale.

"Are you really?", answered Reiska.

To figure out which one was the best lumberjack, they decided to duel. Reiska and Kale agreed to cut trees for day's worth and the one who would cut more would be the winner.

So they went for it. Kale was a young, strong lad with fire in his eyes. He started to chop relentlessly and his pile of wood started to rise visibly. Reiska was a seasoned fellow, who had been in these kind of duels many times before. He lit his cigarette and started chopping.

Kale's pile kept on rising. So did Reiska's, but not in the same relentless rate. After 30 minutes Reiska disappeared...

"What's the matter?!", taunted Kale, "Couldn't handle the competition, old man?!"

Reiska returned, started chopping and disappeared again after 30 minutes. This pattern repeated, Reiska's pile grew at steady rate as Kale's speed slowed down. After the day had passed, Reiska's pile was higher.

Rules are for losers!
"You cheated somehow!", wondered Kale, "I worked as hard as I could while you disappeared every 30 minutes. What were you doing?"

"I went to sharpen my axe...", answered Reiska.

The importance of working smart instead of hard cannot be stressed enough these days. Over 40% of Finnish jobs are specialist jobs, and the rate is climbing rapidly. For example testing positions are pretty much all specialist jobs. They are all about thinking. Working smart instead of hard.

But still many people are grinding through their work days. They work with obsolete and unfit tools, methods, techniques, whatnot and are so swamped in work they don't have time to reflect and seek better ways to do things. I have many colleagues that are like this.

I have also been like this.

As one of my personal projects I was devising a 12-step program for the overworked people. It was supposed to be basically the same as the 12-step program for alcoholists, but fitted to our hectic IT world. And the first step in this program is Admittance. So, ask yourself if you're busy/overworked. If 'no', there's no problem. If 'yes', try to approach the problem with 5 Whys. Example as follows:

The problem: I cannot row this boat with the speed that is required from me.
1st why: I lack the strength to row faster.
2nd why: I have not exercised enough to build my strength.
3rd why: I lack the will to exercise.
4th why: I lack the will to improve myself.
5th why: My unwillingness to improve myself affects my will to improve my cognitive skills and I have not realized that this is a motor boat...

Be brave and heal
Actually this process fast forwards through the steps quite nicely, so further work in this project is at this point unnecessary. :) Each of these 'whys' basically gives you focus areas and ultimately the root cause. And as the example shows, healthy amount of self-criticism is required. If you are busy, the problem is surprisingly often you. I have done my share of whining and complaining, but after I put myself under the microscope I gained actual progress in fixing problems.

So before working any further ask yourself: "Am I working harder or smarter?"

Quote time! I think this is quite fitting... :)

"It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" -Ronald Reagan

Working ha... smart,



  1. Special thanks from these thoughts go to Tobbe Ryber, who reminded me of the 5 Whys and Lloyd Roden, who did the same with the lumberjack story.

    Nordic Testing Days 2013 keeps on giving! :)

  2. Excellent stuff Sami. I also like the saying (coined by a certain testing professional) "Turhan työn välttäminen on viisauden alku".

    1. Thank you, sir! I would imagine Hessu would come up with something like that. He has many undying sayings. :)

    2. Spot on, guvnor!

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