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Describe Solutions Rather Than Ask For Tasks

Below is a word-for-word cut-and-paste from today’s Seth Godin’s blog post: “What do you need me to do?”

“What do you need me to do?”

This is a question that defines the person asking it. It is very different from, “here’s what you might need…”

If you ask people for the next task on the list, if you allow them to define the thing they are buying from you, you have abdicated responsibility. Your work product becomes dependent on the insight and guts of the person giving you an assignment. This is especially dangerous for consultants and freelancers, because the answer might be, “nothing.” Or it might be a paying gig that’s profitable in the short run but a career deadener over time.

Far better to reach a level of confidence and skill that you can describe solutions rather than ask for tasks.

Seth’s comments jibe with two concepts I’ve shared in the past.

(1) Don’t present a problem, show up with the solution.

I only needed to hear this once, it has stuck my entire career. Don’t just show up to your boss with the problem, offer a solution.

Goffus: “Whoops! Wanted to let you know, there is a misprint on the Grand Opening invitations!”

Gallant: “Listen, wanted to let you know… I spotted a misprint with the date on the invitations… that’s pretty important. I’ve contacted the printer, they can do another run for us and can still make our delivery date. Sound good to you?”

Who is going to get the promotion? What is even better, is if you arrive with the problem solved. (If you are authorized to spend the budget to re-print the invitations – do that, why wait?)

(2) Add Knowledge

When someone gives you an assignment – for example, completing the spreadsheet with your numbers – instead of just doing the minimum, see if there is a way to provide additional value through knowledge. In addition to the numbers, perhaps it would be better presented in chart form too? Maybe the spreadsheet is poorly formatted and could use some clean up? Perhaps there is a more efficient way to do the entire project online vs. emailing a spreadsheet from peer to peer.

These lessons apply to being a better employee, or being a better brand to your customers.

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