Hard work Vs Smart work


I was screening resumes for a job opening when I came across a resume where the applicant mentioned “Not hard but smart work” as one of his strengths. This got me thinking whether smartness can really be a substitute for hard work … or vice-versa?

Some people believe that smartness is god-gifted hence either you are smart (read born smart) or you are not. Others believe that smartness is a skill which can be developed like any other skill. And finally, there are some who believe smartness is a combination of both (trait and skill) and governed by factors such as one’s surroundings, environment, life experiences and so on.

Similarly, hard work can also be attributed to both trait and skill along with various factors affecting it. But there is a difference – some people work really hard while doing certain tasks but are quite lazy otherwise. I have been accused of being both, lazy and hard working, but for different type of tasks.

In my perception this is something which differentiates hard work from smartness. If one is smart, it would generally reflect in whatever that person does but the same can’t be said for hard work. If a person enjoys doing something, (s)he would naturally work hard doing it without even realizing it. You can find many examples of this in your day to day life.

Image Courtesy - innov8tiv.com

Image Courtesy – innov8tiv.com

Quote above provides another interesting insight on the topic. It basically means that lazy people are smart but by no means, it implies hard working folks are not smart. One might discard the quote as an individual perception but I have personally known a few people for quite some time who can be as lazy as a sloth yet fit the definition of “smart” quite convincingly.

Coming back to the topic whether smartness is a substitute for hard work or vice versa, let’s consider the matrix below.

hard work vs smartness

Based on assumption that the task at hand is not physical but require mental abilities

It’s safe to assume that both hard working and lazy people can be smart. Someone who is both hard working and smart (2nd quadrant) is clearly the best option. Someone who is smart but is lazy (1st quadrant), should not be a very bad choice after all. Come on, even Bill Gates approves it 🙂

Let’s look at the bottom part of the matrix now. If someone is hard working but isn’t smart (3rd quadrant) then it presents a dilemma. Though it’s likely that the person would be able to complete the task satisfactorily, in general a smarter person would complete it in either shorter period of time or in a more efficient way, or possibly both. This creates a may be, may not be situation for someone belonging to this quadrant.

Someone who is neither hard working nor smart (4th quadrant) is clearly not an option.

So where does this leaves us? Well, it seems that smartness may cover up for hard work to a good extent but the opposite doesn’t seem as promising. But the question here is – why get stuck in bottom part of the matrix at all when we all have a choice? I believe that smartness may be a trait but it is also a skill. Even when one is not “born smart”, (s)he can develop the skills needed to qualify as “smart”.

When we come across someone “smart”, it generally means that the person has the knowledge and the ability to analyze the given situation to come up with an appropriate response, action or solution, depending on the context. If one is determined and works hard, there is no reason (s)he can’t acquire the knowledge and necessary skills to fit in the second quadrant. The matrix above holds true only if one isn’t willing to work hard to reach the top from bottom.

Hard work is a choice anyone can make and if you make that choice, there is nothing which can stop you from achieving your goals even if your goal is to become the smartest person on the planet. On the contrary, doesn’t matter how smart you are, you can’t succeed always without working hard. And those who think smartness is all they need, they are in for a rude shock.

As for the resume which started this train of thought, I hope you can make a good guess about what I did with it.