A while back I automated some tasks. I enjoyed it. The task was engaging and it felt like a clever thing to do.
Fast forward to a few months later, I asked myself what ‘good’ did this do. The answer is simple, I no longer need to perform a relatively routine task and as a result I’ve saved myself some time.
This is good a good thing.
In the words of my 5 year old niece — But why?
Well, this is ‘good’ for two reasons:
- Firstly, because the process itself was a learning experience and engaging.
- Secondly, because it saves me time, in theory I should be able to use that saved time to do more meaningful and productive things.
The problem here is the second reason (I have no problem with the first).
Saving time is ‘good’ but the end result is entirely dependent on how I spend that time. I could use it for ‘good’, or, I could binge some pirated tv shows and eat pies etc.
The automating of a the task or the creating of efficiency is a clever thing, but saying something is a clever thing doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. This got me wondering about what’s a good thing to do versus what is just clever and whether the distinction matters?
Good vs Clever
In my current opinion (until I change it) a good thing to do would be something that effectively improves peoples lives either by providing them with something they need to fulfill their wants and needs (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs). Outside of physical needs this would include anything that positively builds human relationships.
(Yes, there’s a philosophical rabbit-hole there but I’m not trying to uncover the meaning of life here okay — we all know it’s 42).
Clever things on the other hand, I see as things that save time, increase efficiencies, production output etc. They don’t however necessarily improve the general quality of life of those involved, only increase the resources available to do stuff with (including time). People get to choose what to do with those resources.
Good things can be clever things and clever things can be good but not all clever things are good and not all good things are clever.
So what’s wrong with clever things?
Now, I don’t think that clever things are bad, they’re generally rather desirable. I am generally a big fan of clever. A problem creeps in however when you end up with an overemphasis on clever things.
This wouldn’t be a big problem if people we good at effectively utilising the resources we generate from our cleverness. Unfortunately however, evidence suggests that we’re often not that good at it.
We live in a world where our lives are often so optimised for efficiency and productivity that it’s very easy to forget any kind of distinction here and unfortunately, optimising in one area often results in neglect in another.
So what is the point of this posturing?
Recently I’ve found that simply keeping the Good/Clever distinction in mind is a pretty good way of:
- Staying grounded, empathetic and mindful.
- Reminding myself to try and maintain a balance of focus between the two.
- Reminding myself to try and make as many small (and seemingly insignificant moments) as I can into ‘good’ ones.
If you’re feeling stressed out, anxious or worn down, try taking a deep breath and a moment to focus on some ‘good’ stuff. Even if it’s just a thought, a smile or a kind word. Remember that your value is more than just the clever stuff you do.
You might be pleasantly surprised.