Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland

Article excerpt

Whenever I hear the phrase 'hard-working families' a little voice in my head asks 'what about the lazier, chilled-out families? Shouldn't we think about them too?' If Cameron simply abandoned this Stakhanovite fetish and announced Britain's move to a four-day working week, he could win the election outright.

It may take decades, but the work week is due for a rethink. It is hopelessly restrictive. Given the attacks on zero-hours contracts, you may be astonished to hear that over 80 per cent of employees on such contracts actually like them. I suspect many are people -- carers, parents, students, the semi-retired -- who can only work if they can work flexible hours.

Surprisingly people are often more productive when they work fewer hours. In reality, over-energetic people are often a bit of a curse (if you've ever worked with the worst kind of American, you'll know what I mean). Just as highly intelligent people tend to overcomplicate things to give themselves an edge, the energetic make things more effortful than necessary to play to their comparative strength: it lets them neutralise more capable or reasonable people who can't be bothered to play that game.

An analogy can be seen in sport. For a long time there was a class of sporting heroes who were, to put it politely, a bit porky. Ferenc Puskás and Babe Ruth weren't slim (it was said the Babe aimed to score home runs so he could jog around the bases without breaking a sweat). The Brazilian genius Socrates was a chain smoker; quite a few great footballers were epic boozers and pie-munchers. But, given their talent, this didn't matter. Then sport got a bit too serious.

Late in his career, John -McEnroe was asked by a group of young players what he did to keep fit. He looked at them, baffled: 'I play tennis.' They had meant weight training, circuits and so forth. The question is whether, had he been born 15 years later, McEnroe would have bothered to be a tennis player at all. …

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