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How a Lazy Man Won a Nobel Prize

No one wants to be called lazy. Especially by a friend.
But lazy worked just fine for Richard Thaler, who won a Nobel Prize for economics.
Thaler, according to his best friend Daniel Kahneman — also a Nobel-winning economist — is lazy. In a good way. In fact, Kahneman once wrote, laziness is Thaler’s “single best quality.”
“The truth is I’m only willing to work on things that are fun,” Thaler has said. He means it. Of his book, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Thaler said, “My only advice for reading the book is stop reading when it is no longer fun.”
But fun explains only so much of Thaler’s success.
“Part of the story is simple persistence,” said a Financial Times article. “Prof Thaler’s first behavioural economics paper was published in 1980; he has been banging this drum for a long time.”
When you combine passion with persistence, good things happen. But others did not see it.
“We didn’t expect much of him,” Sherwin Rosen, Thaler’s thesis adviser, was quoted in the article.
Thaler was an invisible gem, a genius hidden in plain sight. And he has said he can’t blame people who did not see his potential. He’s said that if economists were drafted the way athletes are, he would not be a first-round pick. But like many other low draft picks, Thaler outperformed those who seemed to have more potential.
One idea grabbed him. He said that economics was more than numbers, that it must take human nature into account. Thaler’s passion for this idea, plus his persistence, gave him the prize.
The moral of the story?
Lazy can work. So does passion. Those two ideas seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. Someone who seems lazy may simply be uninterested. That can change when something ignites passion, just as it did for Thaler and his behavioral economics.


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