We’ve needed to talk about something really important – it could change your life, business, and relationships. It’s the kind of work that can leave you feeling alone, misunderstood, and like to need a trip to another country.
“Importance” is often used for the purposes of providing clarity, establishing stronger boundaries, increasing trust, building confidence, conveying a sense of sequence, and a ton of other “functions.” But it’s become a fundamentally flawed concept.
It no longer works.
Many call knowing what’s important the roadmap to success, the fundamental starting point to most project management, the thing that relationships depend to stay balanced, and so on. “Important” is one of those words that is used for so many reasons, but none of them work.
If we’re talking about “important to me” or important to someone else, we’re talking about an intrinsic value held by either myself or them.
If we’re talking about “important to be responsible” we’re talking about an external obligation, chosen or imposed.
If we talk about “important to get done now” we’re talking about urgency of something we value.
If we’re talking about “important so we can protect … “ we’re talking about welfare of others.
If we’re talking about “important to take advantage of” we’re getting caught up in current moment bias.
Some might say that this is context-dependent, and sure, I can see that. But, if importance is so important, then why would we be satisfied with ambiguity? Defining something as important without clarity destroys trust, sows seeds of guilt, and might even be flat out wrong. And it happens a lot – it’s exactly opposite what we’re trying to do.
We see this all the time:
- “You should make that more important.”
- “What’s important right now?”
- “If I get nothing done today, what’ the most important thing to do?”
- “I need to prioritize [thing].”
This word is a lot like “love,” “productive” or “valuable” – there are too many interpretations to easily depend on the word.
The lack of valuable meaning to “important” creates an unseen chasm between that which we think we’re communicating and that which we’re actually communicating. That chasm, in turn, creates uncertainty, doubt, and reduces the chances of truly conveying what you intend. By reducing those changes, our stories, beliefs, and biases create meaning to fill the gaps. This is completely normal – it’s a natural survival mechanism, but for some reason, we constantly try to fight it.
The solution should be simple here – make sure you consider all aspects of importance and how they relate to each other. If you’re not clear on all the factors nor have them balanced well, you’ll create seeds of doubt, mistrust, anxiety, and confusion in your communication.
This leaves us with one important question: how can we communicate importance clearly?
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make this up so we can answer that:
- Positive emotion when complete
- Negative emotion when incomplete
- The impact of others
- Relevance to now (recency bias)
- How completing this desire affects other desires.
We’ve needed to have some kind of system to help us navigate this murky, uncertain, and very required space.
If we take action only based on one of these factors (ex urgency), we leave the rest (ex: positive/negative emotion, impact, relevance) all up to chance, but if we take action based on many factors, it can be too many.
The trick here is to strike a balance.
So how do we choose?
- Goal-Driven Decisions: If you have goals to set your trajectory, those goals have a certain quality to them. It could be a feeling. It could be a sense – like security, enlightenment, or more. Use these goals to determine which aspects are most relevant by choosing aspects that support the goals.
- Feeling-Driven Decisions: What’s the strongest feeling that’s up for you right now? What aspects of importance are most relevant given this feeling? Consider the aspects that evoke that feeling the most. Note – if overused, this method can lead to what has been dubbed “reckless” decision-making.
- Intuitive Decisions: Don’t speak in terms of importance, but instead simply choose one of the most relevant aspects intuitively – almost as if by chance – and describe whatever is important in terms of that aspect instead.
I’m sure there are many other mechanisms that you could use, but the most important thing is to stay away from the word “Important.” It means nothing. Instead, determine which aspects are most relevant to communicate what you’re actually trying to say, then say it.
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