The Difference Between Knowing What To Do And Knowing Where To Go

There’s a difference between knowing what to do and knowing where to go.* 


Knowing what to do is about completing a task. Someone decides, a boss or a client for example, and then we go and get it done. Knowing what to do bottlenecks at the decision maker. They have to call the shots for anything to happen. 


Knowing where to go is about completing a mission. Missions have lots of mini-tasks, usually scattered and out of order. The decision maker (if it’s not us) tells us where to go, and we set about prioritizing and completing the tasks ourselves. Knowing where to go allows us to ask, “does this move us closer to completing the mission” without needing to ask “what next?” The bottleneck is on us and it’s empowering


If we only know what to do when we’re told, we’ll occasionally find ourselves standing around doing nothing.  It’s like our treadmill speed is controlled by the decision makers. If we know where we’re going, then we can always figure out what to do next. We’re running – in the wild – towards a destination. The decision makers point at the target and we go, powered by our own over the pace and path.


Missions are defined by meaning. If the happiness literature has taught us anything, it’s that experiences are more important than things. That’s good news for know’ers and bad news for do’ers. Meaning-filled missions include attention to experience over products. This doesn’t exclude products that improve the experience, but it does change the priorities for decision making on a mission towards an amazing experience.


The best stories are those worthy of sharing. When people are empowered, when they know what the mission is, they spread the word. Meaningful missions matter.  Let’s make more of them.


*I learned this from Reid Hoffman’s interview with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.



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