So, from an operational standpoint, “What keeps you up at night?” may be a valid question. We are anticipating what could go wrong and preparing to address a potential problem. Fair enough. I get it.
My issue is that this question often consumes us to the exclusion of what, I would argue, is a more important question: “What gets you up every Morning?” This second question is less straightforward than the first. Defining a particular problem is often easier than defining your passion. What excites you to go to the office every day? What gives your work-life meaning?
It is much easier to address concerns. They are externally driven and usually pretty evident. After all, you are worrying about something! Given enough time and talent; solutions can be identified and implemented.
Our second question is much more personal and more probing. It requires deeper thought and a good amount of soul-searching but may reap greater long-term benefits for you and your organization. It asks you to deal not only with current reality but also to consider the “art of the possible.”
I can think of no better example of this philosophy than the birth of Rite-Solutions. My business partner, Jim, and I spent over 20 years as executives in a large organization that focused, to the point of paralysis, on the first question. We certainly had plenty of “What keeps you up at night?” concerns—most of which were the products of corporate politics and bureaucracy. Not very fulfilling. But it was the answer to the second question of what would get us up every morning, re-invigorated and excited, that led to the creation of Rite-Solutions. Our continued focus on this second question differentiates us in our marketplace and intrigues business authors and thought leaders today.
Who wouldn’t be excited by a mission to “Innovate every day” and the challenge of creating an environment that was more community than corporation. Concentrating on that first question, based on fear, provided us with employment. Focusing on the second question, based on passion, produced a vision of a better company with a core philosophy of “Friends Enjoying Work.”
I am not arguing that ignoring potential impending problems is prudent or desired. At the same time, I wonder what presents the larger risk to an organization, especially in an era of unprecedented, rapid change:
- Spending less time fretting over what could go wrong (problems), or
- Not spending more time contemplating what could go right (opportunities)
Addressing the question of “What keeps you up at night?” is necessary to maintaining a healthy, stable company. It is the work of sound management. But contemplating and acting upon the question “What gets you up every morning?” is essential to becoming a truly great company. It is the work of true leadership.