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Is “impact” a better way to choose your work than “contribution”?

Imagine that you’re on your computer surfing the net. You check your email, then open up a website about your hobby, then you open Facebook. Oh look! There’s a notification! Someone invited you to a charity event. “It looks interesting”, you think to yourself. And so you join. And you go… And you come back home after the event, feeling happy for yourself for having experienced something new, and helping some people in some small way.

Are you imagining this? Oh, you’ve done it before?! Great! That makes things easier.

Ok… Now, let me ask you some things:

  • How much of a difference did you make?
  • Will those people’s lives change much for what you did?
  • Did you create impact?

I ask this because sometimes, we don’t create impact. In fact, we don’t even want to. Sometimes, we just want to contribute.

What are you contributing?

At some point in human history, people weren’t giving enough to charities. And somebody suddenly had a brilliant idea! There were 6 billion people in the world. If everyone donated a single dollar…!

Or even if you only had 0.1% of people donating a single dollar each, you would already get 6 million dollars.

And so they created a campaign that said:

“Every dollar helps”

I’m sure you’ve seen this concept used before in charity campaigns right? Ok, so you have. I bet you’re asking now, “What’s the fallacy? What’s the problem?”. The problem is that, if every dollar helps, then a dollar is enough.

What? A dollar!? That’s it!?

Yeah, that’s it. That’s what society has pushed forward as the standard. Now, in itself, it’s not such a big problem. It turns out that most of the time, the best thing to give to a charity IS actually money, and not clothes or things or manpower.

Does contributing actually help?

When giving aid, a lot of help is needed on the ground. If stuff is donated, then the workers on the ground can be distracted from their main job of helping people. Instead, they have to spend time and energy sorting through stuff and handling the very complex logistics of passing out all the stuff to the people who need it. It’s easier to buy what’s needed. In fact, if you give stuff, you might just be destroying the local economy. Shoes to Argentina, food to Haiti, clothes to Africa… It all ensured one thing. If you’re getting it for free, you won’t buy it from local sellers. This means local industries die.

Surprisingly, even volunteering isn’t such a good idea at times. If it’s a technical task, you shouldn’t be there. Professional doctors and engineers would be much better in curing people or building important buildings for them. An untrained random volunteer might just screw things up, or have to be trained first, thus wasting the time of the qualified people there. And at the same time, the untrained volunteer will also be using up important food and water on the ground that could be used by the victims.

So giving stuff to help people may be a bad contribution. Volunteering may be a bad contribution too. What about money then? Sometimes even money can be a bad contribution. When a problem is large and complex, throwing money at it never solves it.

So what should you contribute then?

It’s tough, but you’ll actually have to do your research and figure out what they actually need, not what you think they need.

Don’t give what you want to give, give what people need to receive.

The fallacy of contribution

So what’s the problem with contributing then?

When you put such low expectations on people, and in fact celebrate them for meeting such low levels of impact, they get a false sense of  fulfilment. They feel like they’ve actually done something when they’ve actually done nothing. Or even made things worse.

“Every little helps”? This means that we only do a little. The barest minimum.

It creates a culture of not pursuing excellence. Because excellence is just not worth going for. It’s made worse by a subconscious belief that “doing things leads to results”. And doing more of it leads to more results. Unfortunately, this is often untrue. It’s the same mindset that’s permeated our job culture.

Job culture

The current job culture says that you should work more more more for your company.

“If you can do a great job working 30 hours a week, you must be able to get twice as much done if you work 60 hours a week!”

That’s the subconscious philosophy that exists in most of the working world. This is a philosophy based on the idea of contribution and effort, not impact and results. You see it in the way that people work more hours, in the belief that this will help them with their job somehow. Instead, I firmly believe that you should work less hours to do a better job.

Do you think that way too? Yes, you probably have the same belief as well.

You don’t, you say? Just check quickly if you’re working more than 40 hours this week. What if I asked you to work 10 hours less this week, but create more impact instead? If you can say yes to that, then you may have the impact mindset.

We have a choice of two very different ways to accomplish something. Focusing on effort or focusing on results. They’re very similar and can be easily confused, but they create such a deep difference in mindset. That difference in mindset makes all the difference in how you choose the tasks that you do at work as well as the decisions you make when choosing your work in the first place.

The “contribution is good” mindset

Contributing a simple thing to do. You just exert more effort. The you don’t worry about the results. Done.

It gives a great sense of feeling good, that you’ve at least done a small thing to contribute to the world. It’s a state that you can only achieve when you’re happy and secure with yourself. So, giving and placing effort causes you to feel happy and secure in having done something at least.

But the problem is, when you just stop there. That contribution gives enough endorphins that we don’t take the next step to create impact. It robs us of the drive to go the final mile. No, not even the final mile, it robs us of the drive to even go past the first mile.

…It’s like starting a marathon and going for one mile and saying that this is good enough, because at least I did something.

…It happens when you donate to random charities and beggars without caring what the effect would be.

…It happens when you tweet/facebook a movement without caring if it succeeds.

…It happens when you join a cause and do whatever you can to help, rather than what’s the cause needs to succeed.

The “impact is good” mindset

With this mindset, you start hating random contributions just for the sake of contributing. Because:

  1. Random contributions can be useless if they don’t address the real issues that create impact.
  2. Random contributions can actually hurt the people you want to help.
  3. Random contributions and effort will waste your time that could be used to actually make this world a better place.

Creating impact

Creating impact takes time, research and passion.

Creating impact means you choose the method that best makes things happen, not just the method that’s most convenient for you.

Creating impact means that you should contribute less in quantity, and focus on quality instead.

Unfortunately, most of the time, that’s not what the masses do…

Be different and create impact instead!

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