Do you want to set your priorities straight? Looking for ways to change the world? Wondering where to begin? There you have it – ask yourself “What wouldn’t get done unless I do it?” and you know where to start.
This same question exists in multiple versions. John F. Kennedy was inviting us to ask ourselves something similar when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. In a much more recent example, in his latest book Upstream, Dan Heath is advocating for us to shift our attention from putting out fires to solving problems before they become problems. He suggests that lack of ownership is one of the key reasons why problems don’t get prevented and invites us to own the issues we care about. In essence, both of them suggest that we ask ourselves how we can contribute.
While I appreciate these other versions as well, questions I have a slight preference for the “What wouldn’t get done unless I do it?” formulation. One reason I love this question is indeed because it puts you firmly in the driving spot. Things are no longer someone else’s problems. They are yours, ours, to own and solve. All of this is because of the reframing offered by this question.
But there is a further reason I love this question. It makes me think of all the small ways in which I can improve the world. I’m not a huge fan of contributing to major causes simply because I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to eradicate poverty. I don’t know how to solve global warming. I don’t know how my company’s business environment will change in one year’s time. Yet, asking myself what wouldn’t get done unless <em>I </em>do it nudges me to act, to give it a try, to do something small hoping it will make the world a better place.
And finally, I love this because it brings out your unique strength. Remember, it’s about the thing that wouldn’t get done unless <em>you</em> do it. You might have the unique skill set; you might be in the right place, or in the right time; you might be the best positioned person to do it; or the most motivated one. Whatever it is, it makes you realize that you are unique in a number of ways and it nudges you to use this strength to improve the world.
So what does this all mean?
It means that unless you get your partner these flowers, no one else will. It means that unless you show appreciation to your coworkers, no one else will. It means that unless you pick up this piece of litter in front of the building’s entrance, no one else will. It means that unless you do this task that falls in the cracks of your company’s organizational structure, no one else will. It means that unless you take care of the environment, no one else will. That unless you stop and take this photo, the moment will be gone forever. That unless you try this recipe, you will never know what the cake tastes like. It means that you need to own it.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!