Working Hard or Working Smart?

Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress


By Omogbemi Adelagun. Esq

HR departments are becoming more and more worried about the difference between WORKING HARD and WORKING SMART, and whether the latter is better than the former, and especially given the attendant implications that working hard will seem to thrive in a rules-based culture while working smart will seem to thrive in a principles-based or results-based culture.

The 2-HR stories below are told by Bob Burg and John Mann in their book ‘The Go-Giver’. These stories have been found quite intriguing, and worthy of being read through by HR and all organizational actors. At least, they help to enable us to easily decipher the little but very important difference between WORKING HARD and WORKING SMART.

Story No.1 – The Story of Bob and John (What makes the difference)

Once upon a time, there was a tiny village. It was a wonderful place to live – except for one problem – the village had no water unless it rained. The villagers needed water so they asked Bob and John, two of their own, to solve the problem, and the one who solved it would become the village’s Monopolist.

Bob immediately grabbed some buckets. He ran to the lake, filled his buckets and started carrying backwater. When he returned to the village, he emptied his buckets in the village reservoir and ran back to the lake. He worked hard, doing this day after day and did so for three months until the reservoir is filled up. No doubt Bob was really hardworking.

John on the other hand did absolutely nothing, at least, that’s what the other villagers thought initially because he didn’t have any buckets and no one ever saw him carrying water. Lazy John indeed. In fact, most of the villagers assumed he had given up. But John was working too doing a lot of underground thinking outside the box. He had spent the vast majority of his first 2 months strategizing and planning. While Bob hauled buckets back and forth, John was simply thinking and planning how to build and construct an underground pipeline to bring water to the village from the neighborhood. Wow!!! Simply what we call Pro-activeness and Innovation in today’s organization!

I will surely bet you know how this story ends. John built a system. He used a few simple ingredients and little of physical efforts to create a better, more reliable and more efficient product. He created his pipeline and eventually, Bob, the hard worker was thrown out of business. Both Bob and John had worked hard but the difference is that John had added ‘SMARTNESS’ or perhaps what you call STRATEGY into his hard work. That makes the simple but essential difference between John and Bob.

Story No.2: The Story of the Experienced Old Man (Where to Tap)

Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine. Each of the expert especially the young virile ones had rigorously checked but with no clue for solution.

Then the ship owners brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom. Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, and eager to see what magic he would perform.

After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars ($10,000). “What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” His work shouldn’t cost beyond $200.00. So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.” The man then sent a bill that read:

  • Tapping with a hammer …………………… $200
  • Knowing where to tap ………………………. $9,800

Now you will want to say – Smart Work makes sense and far better than Hard Work. Yes of course.  But the truth still is that there is no way you will get to the point of smart working without having worked or labored hard one way or the other in the past. However, merely relying on hard working will not lift your mastery in the game. What proves your adept-ship is ability to learn fast and deploy innovativeness.

So it could in most cases be true (and most especially in nowadays organizations) that Hard Work is for suckers while Smart Work is for flyers.

To be continued and concluded.

Bio: Omogbemi Adelagun is a notable Corporate Writer and Corporate Counsel Doyen in Nigeria


  1. Good morning Gbemi. Bob and John both have worked excellent ly. Bob gave immediate solution to safe the village from dieing due to lack of water. He should be given the position in the village. John’s project came as a permanent solution later when the whole village would have died of dehydration if Bob had not fetched the water into reservoir.
    Where to tap: I hope the old man was paid his money. The real job is knowing where to tap. The ship owner should be thankful to the old man.


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