How To Do What Matters

The future can no longer be “What is going to happen?” It is “What are we going to do?” 

Henri Bergson

In a world full of fear, we need more compelling, uplifting visions for what’s possible in our future. Compelling visions move us from fearful to fearless. When we have a compelling vision, the future becomes less about something to be feared, and more about something to be created.

Compelling visions start with us, in our minds and hearts. They come from our willingness to tap our curiosity, imagination, and empathy. As human beings, these qualities are in us all. Yet, according to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2024 report and the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, these qualities are rising in demand, and are in seriously short supply. 

Beyond rising above fear, research shows that by growing curiosity, imagination, and empathy we create a greater sense of meaning and purpose in work (which workers are increasingly seeking) and better business outcomes. Additionally, Harvard’s Francesca Gino notes that when we tap our curiosity and imagination, we can view big issues more creatively. 

And we’re facing a few big issues at the moment, right? Here are just a few of the persistent challenges we’re facing as a society:

  • How we go beyond GDP as the primary metric for measuring our prosperity
  • How to meet our net-zero emissions targets
  • Getting beyond the culture wars and increasingly polarised societies
  • Shifting from top-down decision-making to co-creating solutions

Now Questions

In our hurried, reactive world, I’ve noticed that most people ask and put most of their energy into what’s right in front of them. They’re busy answering what I call ‘now’ questions. ‘Now’ questions are those that answer our short-term day-to-day challenges. For example:

  • How can I get more sleep?
  • How can I get stuff done more efficiently?
  • How can I influence my boss to let me tackle that important project?
  • Where will we go on holiday?

Our ‘now’ questions will never go away. Yet if we spend all of our time focused on ‘now’ questions, we’re busy standing still. And those big issues, like the ones listed above, are still there.

Big Questions

If we want to create a compelling vision to live into and feel like we’re contributing meaningfully, there’s another type of question that we need to have.

It's called a Big Question.

Big Questions are the ones that help answer ‘What’s all this effort for anyway?’ It puts all those ‘now’ questions into perspective. It helps us define and travel a pathway towards a better, exciting future, not only for ourselves but for humanity. It matters to you, and it matters to the world.

Here are some examples of Big Questions. Each of these relate to one of the challenges listed above:

The value of a Big Question

Big Questions have immense value:

They focus us. They help us take our energy and effort and focus it outwards toward innovating, improving, and delivering on the things we care about most. 

They galvanise us. The conviction behind a Big Question gives us the will to keep going in the face of obstacles, uncertainty, and resistance.

They lift us. They give our work meaning and purpose beyond the immediate ‘now’ questions that we all face. That translates into a greater sense of time well spent.

In short, when we have a Big Question (either for our organisation, our team, or ourselves) we give ourselves a better chance to do more meaningful work that impacts something that matters.

How can I develop a Big Question?

All of the Big Questions listed above come from participants in the Change Makers programme. One of the core pieces of work is for them to define their Big Question. To assist them, we use several techniques that provoke reflection, insight, and bigger thinking.

Here are three starting points that you can try for yourself:

  1. What makes you angry? Notice what big issues in the world persistently frustrate you. Is it how working parents are always exhausted and run ragged? Is it that nothing seems to be getting done about the health of our waterways? Whatever it is, therein lies a clue to your Big Question.
  1. Do a lifeline review. Draw a horizontal line where the left represents your distant past and the right represents the present. Reflect on your life from the past to now. Above the line, mark the highlights where you felt that you were living a meaningful, awesome life. What was going on then? Below the line, mark the low points. What was missing then? Those elements point to what matters to you.
  1. Know your Superpowers. Do this exercise to understand your highest point of contribution: where you are doing work that leverages your strengths and is the most meaningful to you and others. The answers will point to the issues you most care about and can contribute to solving.

Your Call to Action

A compelling vision begins with a question, not an answer. Behind the most compelling visions are questions that speak to possibilities for people and the planet.

We need more people with vision, and the courage to pursue it.

Are you one of them? Would you like to be?

If your answer is yes (even a tentative one) then I’m guessing that you might be interested in finding out more about the Change Makers programme.

There are two ways you can do that:

  • Join a free Change Makers information session on Monday 8th April from 12 pm - 1 pm NZT. Register here.
  • Book a call with me to have a chat about whether it’s the right fit for you or your people.

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