How is “Work Smart, NOT Hard” BAD Advice?

Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs wrote an article describing how that saying is what is keeping us from beating this lousy economy. I had to read it because I always say, "Work Smarter, Not Harder." In my article I will hopefully explain my version.

I am always telling people I work with and sometimes my bosses or company owners…”Work SMARTER, NOT Harder.” I have always been someone who looks to make something better or more efficient. I can’t stand to see others or myself doing something that seems to take a long time when it can be done much faster or done a different way to help in making it easier to teach someone else to do.

Work Smart Not Hard Poster Comparison

These posters were made from the mind of Mike Rowe and further below I begin to see the difference between my Smarter/Harder mantra and his Smart/Hard poster. My version has the ‘er and assumes you are already working smart and hard, but when given the opportunity to do more …or er’er of one of those… that you choose Smarter. Also, call me crazy, but the poster on the right sure seems to depict a Facilities person or a Controls Technician with his laptop, relatively clean, but rugged uniform and a nice fat smart phone. Quite the techie tradesman wouldn’t you say?


Not Working Hard Shouldn’t be Frowned Upon

So here’s a story to go with this video… It’s 4:00pm and there’s an hour left before the end of the day. The boss walks out on the shop floor and says, “One of you guys needs to stay late and sweep up all the metal shavings on the entire shop floor before going home.”

Ofcourse no one wants to stay late so everyone looks at the new guy who just started in the trade a couple of weeks ago. The new guy shrugs and stops what he’s doing and starts digging in the trash and looking around the shop aimlessly. Maybe he even went to his car and fiddled with his jacked up stereo system and speakers in his car. <Play the Video> Next thing you know… 10-15 minutes goes by and he is walking out of the shop and headed home 45 minutes before anyone else. Hopefully, this guy’s co-workers wouldn’t be complaining he gets to go home early. Because he knew there was a better way to get the job done without pushing a broom and dust pan for the next 2 hours, he was able to complete the job faster, not have to work as hard and got to leave work sooner than everyone else.


Working Smarter Can Develop New Innovations

Many times when I am thinking of or watching something unfold that just seems so difficult or time consuming my wheels start turning and wondering how we can do something to make it easier, faster or better. Like in the video to the left, when you take the time (5 minutes… or maybe even 1 week) to think how to do something SMARTER… You end up with a product or process that is completely innovative and can not only help you, but anyone else in your company or industry that encounters the same exact problem and it saves 100 times as much time in the long run as it took to sit down and come up with the idea. And just like this video… it doesn’t have to be anything complicated or expensive. Many of the simple things we enjoy today, when looked at closely seem so simple. Scissors, zippers, even wire nuts.


Surprised at First by Mike Rowe

So when I saw on Profoundly Disconnected a website by Mike Rowe from the famed Dirty Jobs TV series say…

In the long history of bad advice, you’d have look pretty hard to find something dumber than Work Smart Not Hard. … It was bad advice then, but today, it’s just plain dangerous.

I was really surprised… until I read further into it and found an article he wrote for Popular Mechanics saying:

Today student loans eclipse $1 trillion. There’s high unemployment among recent college graduates, and most graduates with jobs are not even working in their field of study. And we have a skills gap. At last count, 3 million jobs are currently available that either no one can do, or no one seems to want. How crazy is that?


The skills gap is bad news for the economy, but it also presents an opportunity. Last month I ran into a woman named MaryKaye Cashman, who runs a Caterpillar dealership in Las Vegas, and she told me they had more than 20 openings for heavy-equipment technicians. That’s kind of astonishing. A heavy-equipment technician with real-world experience can earn upward of six figures. And the training program is free! But still the positions go unfilled? In a state with 9.6 percent unemployment? What’s going on?


By the way… Where are the commercials like this one for OUR Industry?! (Note to self… Get on it. Feed the need.)


Same with the Controls and Automation Industry

Now, it was becoming more clear. The saying was from an ad campaign trying to push people into going to college. Take the route of working smart instead of working hard was more talking about white collar/blue collar meaning. But as those of us in the industry today know, you have to “Work smart AND work hard” to really grow and build an awesome career.

I can’t say that I am making a 6 figure income at the moment, but I will tell you this… I am sitting pretty nice and that is wicked awesome for someone without a single hour of college credit and barely made it out of high school with a diploma. I will also tell you that every job position I have taken after my first 3 years of working for a Building Automation/Controls contractor has specified in the job requirements a college degree of some sort whether 2 or 4 years. Obviously, I don’t have one and I got the job.

So, if you can learn to work smart and work hard… there are job opportunities out there for you. Don’t listen to the media or your friends, who either live with their parents or sit at home/the bar complaining about there’s no work out there. There is. You just have to be the type of person to think of new and better ways to do the same old stuff.

*Steps off soap box.


Mike Rowe Works Foundation Education Scholarship ProgramBy the way if you want to buy the poster that Mike Rowe made, you can do so on eBay and all the proceeds go towards his mikeroweWORKS Foundation Education Scholarship Program. The program is set up to award individual scholarships to applicants who want to pursue a career in the skilled trades. This program is for students who are enrolled in a skilled trade program at a two-year college, vocational school or approved training institute.

4 Responses to How is “Work Smart, NOT Hard” BAD Advice?

  1. Glenn Erickson September 16, 2013 at 12:01

    I agree totally. There is nothing wrong with working hard. Where the error is is in not seeking ways to do the work more efficiently or effectively. Life is too short to endlessly drudge through the same tasks every day. Take the time to examine what you are doing and seek ways to make it easier on yourself and others.


  2. Kenny Gibbs October 11, 2013 at 13:14

    I grew up with a Father who was a carpenter and a mother who drove school bus so working hard was just something that was the norm.
    As a grown man I put a full day in teaching history at a small high school and evenings completing chores on my farm and greenhouse business.
    Watched Mike’s interview on The Blaze and went looking for his website.
    Looking forward to sharing this with my students.

  3. Alejandro October 26, 2013 at 11:07

    I am a msn that works hard, but always lookig for an faster or easier way to do it. I agree that work hard is good to achieve your goals, finding a way to do it easier and faster will give you the same sensation of satisfaction.

  4. Kevin August 10, 2018 at 22:03

    I think you’re misunderstanding what Rowe is concerned about. Nowhere has he ever said not to find ways of working efficiently. I might also add nowhere has he ever said always avoid college, or universities are bad (people always stick those words into his mouth). I say this as an admitted fan of the guy, which you might find odd since I have 2 4-year university degrees and have studied at 4 universities and have, like you, not a day in a community college or trade school.

    What Rowe is trying to say refers to the 1970s-era high-school poster which he saw in his own high-school career-guidance office. His own guidance counsellor even pointed to the poster to discourage him from going to trade school. The poster said “Work Smart, Not Hard”. I’d STRONGLY suggest you look it up online. On one side is a proud university grad with a diploma, nice gown, big smile, the sun is shining…. and on the other side is some tradesman looking sad, dirty, disheveled, working in a dark filthy environment that looks like the basement of Hell. The poster was CLEARLY designed to elevate colleges and white-collar work, while disparaging trades and blue-collar work. To understand Rowe, you simply MUST go to google and look up the poster and see it for yourself. It’s not only bad advice but snobbish b.s. which over 40+ years has delegitimized work in the trades. In the poster, “Hard” doesn’t mean “effort”, it means “blue-collar”. You must understand that to understand what Rowe is talking about. Calling “NOT Hard” bad advice doesn’t mean seeking workplace efficiencies is somehow bad; it means that a high-school guidance office deliberately steering kids away from the trades is bad. And it IS bad, and that’s exactly what they did, they created a hierarchy. It’s bad in a hundred different ways.

    You sound like a literal showcase of what Rowe talks about: “I am sitting pretty nice… without a single hour of college credit and barely made it out of high school with a diploma.” That’s the kind of guy Rowe admires. YOU.

    In fact, I’ll quote you again: “So, if you can learn to work smart and work hard… there are job opportunities out there for you.” Did you realize you just endorsed Rowe’s main argument? His campaign posters say “Work Smart AND Hard.” I’m sure Mike Rowe couldn’t agree more.


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