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Danae, chief technology officer and cofounder of a small software company, was talking with Celia, her chief executive officer and cofounder.

“I know we’re in this to make money,” Danae said. “And because we see a need no one else is serving. I don’t get what you’ve been saying recently, though. That we have an obligation to offer our solution to the world.”

“What don’t you get about it?” Celia inquired.

“Why do we have an obligation? Are you saying we must keep pursuing this even if everyone stops buying? Even if we decide we want to go do something else? I’m not certain I want to run this business the rest of my life.”

“All good questions,” Celia acknowledged. “Let me explain and give you some answers.”

Doing what we love is a right

“First off,” Celia said, “this is just an extension of what I believe about my life. Your life, too. Everyone’s, in fact.”

“That we have to offer whatever people want to buy from us?”

“No. That would be giving away our freedom. And it’s not about buying and selling specifically. It is about my base belief that each of us is here to create something.”

“This you’ve talked about before. That we each have unique gifts. I was skeptical when you proposed letting people choose what they want to work on, rather than assigning responsibilities and duties like every other company seems to do. But, I’ve become convinced. Our productivity is through the roof, much higher than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. And, our surveys consistently report happiness scores off the charts.”

Celia nodded. “Yes. When we’re allowed to put all of our focus and attention on activities that leverage and engage our full selves, we are happier and more productive. It’s not just that we should be allowed to do this, however. We have an obligation to do so.”

Danae considered Celia’s words. “I can get behind saying everyone has a right to do what they love. That’s saying everyone has a right to be who they are. Full bandwidth diversity. An obligation to use them, however…I don’t intend to force anyone to do anything they do not want to do.”

Doing what we love is an obligation to ourselves

“I’d never force anyone to do something they don’t want to do,” Celia agreed. “I don’t believe, however, that anyone can dislike their genius.” She held up her hands as Danae started to speak. “Yes, some people have been told, and may even believe, that the activities that bring them joy aren’t valuable, or are even wrong or evil. Just like people have been told, and sometimes believe themselves, that their skin color, or cultural background, or romantic persuasion, and so many other aspects of who they are is useless, wrong, evil. However, if we can free ourselves from what other people have put on us and truly understand what our talents enable, both for ourselves and others, utilizing them can only bring us joy.”

“Well, it can bring loads of frustration until we learn how to use them. But I get your meaning. Still, this sounds more like we have a right to use our strengths than an obligation.”

“We do have that right. The obligation, first of all, is to ourselves. If we aren’t using our abilities to the best of, well, our abilities, and learning how to use them even more, we’re letting ourselves down. We’re preventing ourselves from being the best us we can be.”

“Okay…I’m starting to understand. I agree. I’ve seen so many of our people light up as the workshops and exercises we’ve been bringing in help them find their happy place in our company. Help them understand what they love and how to apply that to our business. I’d be letting them down if I didn’t encourage them to do this. I’d be letting myself down if I didn’t do this myself. So, yes. I have an obligation to myself to do this.”

Doing what we love is an obligation to everyone else

“The other obligation is to the rest of the world,” Celia continued.

“Now you’ve lost me again. Just because I enjoy doing something doesn’t mean I have to do it for anyone else.”

“I agree. However, what you enjoy is exactly what many other people do not enjoy. They would love to have you do it for them.”

“Well, just because they don’t want to do it doesn’t mean I need to do it for them.”

“Again, I agree. But, since you do enjoy doing it, why not?”

Danae considered. “I’m not convinced.”

“What’s your special brilliance? Why are you CTO and not someone else?”

“Making decisions with very little information. Identifying the tiny steps we can take to mitigate risk around that decision being a little—or a lot—off kilter.”

“Where would this company be if you hadn’t been doing that for us all this time?”

“Not where we are now. Not by a long shot. We wouldn’t still be in business.”

“We wouldn’t. You’ve saved our bacon innumerable times. And our bank account.”

“I get it. If we don’t offer our genius to others, however is right for us to do so, we prevent those others from accepting and using what we have to offer. We prevent them from leveraging us to make their lives better.”

The world is clamoring to have you in their lives

“I understand, now, why you say we have an obligation to offer our software to the world. It’s not that someone else is making us develop it. It’s not that companies are lining up to buy it. It’s that, for the people in this company, at this point, building this software and offering it to the world is the best way for you and me and each of our employees to bring our unique talents to bear on creating what we are here to create. For me, that includes this particular company, software, and team.”

“And the clarity in decisions and paths forward you uniquely provide.”

Danae quirked a smile. “I’m putting that in my performance review.”

Celia smiled in return. “Add it to your email signature, too. Let the world know who you are!”

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