Jack Ma told New Employees to be Clever Lazy People; Hard Work is Overrated

The following is an excerpt from Alibaba: the Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World’s Biggest Online Marketplace, a book by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery. It was provided courtesy of Harper Business. You can buy a copy here.

The new employees from Yahoo! China had to be inducted into the peculiarly positive way of thinking of Alibaba’s chairman. Jack Ma gave them their first lesson in a speech made to employees. He titled the speech “Edison Tricked the World.” The original manuscript has been lost, but an employee who was present when Ma delivered it reconstructed the gist of the text:

“Today is the first time I am meeting with our new Yahoo! friends in person. I want to thank you for coming. I also want to share with you some reasons for success, even though most of you will probably not benefit from them. Since you are all hardworking and intelligent, you will probably reject my comments out of hand. A few of you may be lazy enough to get something out of them, however. Let’s get to the point. There are many extremely clever people in the world.

And there are lots of well-educated people who seem unable to succeed. This is because they’ve been wrongly taught from an early age. They have developed the habit of being overly diligent and hardworking. Many of these people remember Edison’s famous phrase, the one about genius being 99 percent sweat and the rest inspiration.They have been led around by the nose by this saying for their entire lives. I’m telling you now it’s wrong. If you plod forward with diligence, in the end you’ll be left with nothing.

Edison was in fact too lazy to consider the real reasons for his success – that is why he came out with that phrase and tricked the whole world. It’s time for us to rethink the facts. Some of you may think I am talking nonsense. Let me give you 100 examples that prove you are wrong. Facts, after all, trump any argument. The richest man on earth, Bill Gates, was a programmer who was too lazy to study at school, so he dropped out. He was also too lazy to remember all those complex DOS commands, so he built that graphic interface… what was it called? I’ve forgot- ten. I’m too lazy to remember these things. The result was that the entire world now uses that “face,” that “window,” and he has become the world’s richest man.

Then there is the most valuable brand on earth, Coca-Cola. The boss of Coca-Cola was even more lazy. China’s tea culture has a long and venerable history, Brazil’s coffee is delicious, but this guy was too lazy to go looking for them. He put a little sugar together with some water, packaged it in a bottle and sold it, and called it Coca-Cola. The rest is history. The entire world is drinking this liquid that looks a little like blood.

Then soccer. The best soccer player in the world is [Ronaldo], who is fundamentally too lazy to move around much on the field. He just stands before the goal of the other side. He waits for the ball to come near him, then gives it a kick. As one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, people puff him up and say he runs with the ball faster than anyone. It’s not true. Other people run for 90 minutes; he runs for fifteen seconds. Naturally he is considered faster.

Fast food. The most successful fast-food company in the world is McDonald’s. Its boss was lazy in the extreme: too lazy to study the refinements of French cooking or the complex skill of Chinese cuisine. He just stuck a piece of beef in between two chunks of bread, and as a result, the world has this M sign all over it.

The pizza boss is the same. We Chinese have lao bing [a kind of stuffed flat bread], with all the things inside. This man was too lazy to stick anything inside; he puts it right on top and sells it as pizza. It’s the same materials, but his pizza costs 10 times as much as lao bing.

Then there are other, more clever lazy people. They were too lazy to climb stairs, so they invented elevators. They were too lazy to walk, so they invented cars, trains, airplanes. They were too lazy to kill people one by one, so they invented nuclear bombs. They were too lazy to work out every calculation, so they invented mathematical formulas. Too many examples. I’m too lazy to give any more.

Oh yes, and then there is that other bit of nonsense I want to mention, about how you have to be in frantic motion in order to stay healthy. How many athletes do you see growing old? Not so many. The longest-lived people on earth are those monks who sit around and are too lazy to eat meat!

What would our lives be like right now without all these lazy people? I’m too lazy to think about it. People are like this, but animals, too. The tortoise, said to be the longest-living animal on earth – well, tortoises hardly move at all. They just crouch there and as a result live to be a thousand. But compared to rabbits, who are diligent, and who run around all the time… who wins? Cows are the most diligent, and as a result, people give them nothing but grass to eat and then add the insult of squeezing them for milk. Pandas, in contrast, are lazy things that do nothing at all.

They just sit there gnawing on a piece of bamboo all day. What do people do with them? They protect them and call them “national treasures”!

To return to our work: You see people running around here in the company. Are they the ones who are most highly paid? Absolutely not. Those most highly paid sit around looking carefree. They probably have a lot of stock options as well. The examples I give are just to clarify an issue, which is that, in fact, this world relies on lazy people to carry it forward. The world is marvelous, thanks to them. Now you should all be aware of the reason for your lack of success!

Laziness is not, of course, stupid-lazy. If you want to be able to work less, you have to think of ways to do it, clever ways to be allowed to be lazy. You have to have a lazy style, a lazy state of mind. Like me. I’ve been lazy since I was a child. Look how short I am – I was even too lazy to grow. That’s the state of mind you need to cultivate.

Thank you all again!”

This article Jack Ma told New Employees to be Clever Lazy People; Hard Work is Overrated is from Tech In Asia.