Science: Lazy people are likely to be smarter, more successful, and better employees. Who knew?

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Let's be honest, lazy people get a bad rap, especially when some of the world's most successful billionaires are perceived as the exact opposite.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, for instance gets up at 5 a.m. every day. He answers emails, eats breakfast with his family, reads the news, takes meetings and plays sports like tennis, running and kitesurfing (what?!) — all before going to bed at 11 p.m. Basically, Branson is an incredibly active and accomplished individual (and it should be a crime to call him lazy).

So it's not hard to see why lazy people are considered to be less smart and successful in their careers. Fortunately, for all the "lazies" out there, science has discovered evidence that laziness might actually be a sign of intelligence.

Science supports laziness

On average, people who are less physically active tend to be brainier than physically active people, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology. Researchers even developed a fancy description for "laziness" — they call it "need for cognition." People who have this trait crave structured and reasoned ways of looking at the world, and they often pursue activities that provide intense mental stimulation, such as brainstorming puzzles or debating.

The data found that those with a high IQ got bored less easily, leading them to be less active and spend more time engaged in thought.

For the study, researchers used a questionnaire to assess the "need for cognition." They 60 subjects were split into two groups ("thinkers" and "non-thinkers") based on their survey responses. All participants then wore activity trackers for a seven-day period, providing the researchers with insight into their habits.

The data showed that those with a high IQ got bored less easily, leading them to be less active and spend more time engaged in thought. The highly active group got easily bored when having to sit still and observe their abstract thoughts. Instead, they preferred to stimulate their minds with active tasks, like sports and other physical activities.

Are lazy people really smarter and more successful?

That certainly doesn't add up. But part of the problem might have to do with how we view laziness itself; it's very possible that the things we associate with laziness are actually not so indicative of laziness at all.

Bill Gates has often been quoted as saying, "I always choose a lazy person to do a hard job, because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it." Whether Gates even said that in the first place is questionable, but the quote still gets repeated — and that's because there's some truth in it.

Many obsessively critical thinkers (a.k.a. people with a high "need for cognition") are concerned with reducing wasteful actions, and instead prefer to use efficient processes. So perhaps hiring a lazy person isn't the worst idea after all. They're likely to be strategic thinkers who can come up with smart shortcuts, ways to eliminate problems, save time and contribute new, innovative ideas to the company.

"False laziness"

Michael Lewis, the bestselling author of "Moneyball" and "The Big Short," is nothing if not smart and successful, and he hasn't shied away from being called lazy. In fact, he attributes much of his success directly to being lazy.

"My laziness serves as a filter," he once said in an interview with Ryan Smith, CEO of the online survey company Qualtrics. "Something has to be really good before I'll decide to work on it."

Elon Musk, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs all have these traits in common
Elon Musk, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs all have these traits in common

Lewis' perception of laziness is what one might call "false laziness": the fact that his laziness contributed to his success debunks the negative stereotypes being a lazy person.

Video games are another example of "false laziness." It's often seen as a mindless activity enjoyed mostly by lazy people. But anyone who's ever played Fortnite knows it requires a fair amount of strategic thinking and problem-solving.

Elon Musk himself has been known to be a prolific gamer, and it's certainly difficult to imagine anyone branding him as lazy. On the back of more than 100-hour workweeks and years without a vacation, Musk has built at least six extremely successful companies. He's about as far from "unintelligent" as it gets.

You've also got Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page among the legions of wildly successful people who like to play video games. Again, these two people are neither lazy nor unintelligent by any stretch.

The bottom line is that "lazy" is a broadly defined word. Still, the evidence suggests that we could afford to be more mindful about what qualities in a person lead us to make that judgment. In the meantime, we should consider embracing the positive aspects of our own inner laziness.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to Fortnite.

Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter @tpopomaronis.

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