We are constantly confronted with things that appear important. “Do the most important thing first!” “It’s important for us to do!” “Don’t you see the importance in it?” “What is important for us to consider?” “This (fill in the blank) is what is important!” “Why don’t they see _________ (fill in the blank) as important?” and so on.
Importance hides in many ways in our lives. As implied rather than explicit. Setting goals is an example. There is an inference that if it is a goal, then it must be important. Prioritizing is a tool we use to rank importance. What we are doing “in the moment” could infer importance. A conversation we have with a co-worker could infer importance. Our presence in some situations could infer importance. The tone of our voice might imply something is important.
The difficulty with importance is not only the number of times it is inferred but also that it is based on a comparison. In relation “to what” is a valid question to consider when trying to assess importance. Because of this need to compare, importance changes depending on what you measure it against.
Urgency confuses importance. Comparisons vary between individuals. Importance can change as we learn more about a topic, subject area, or domain. Experience can misdirect us by assuming an approach from pattern matching (from the past) that causes us to miss different information, never confronted before. Beliefs can bias us by influencing what we consider important without ever questioning why we believe what we do.
The web definition of importance takes us in different directions:
- The quality or condition of being important; significance.
- Personal status; standing.
- Meaning; import.
Going further the web definition of important reveals:
- Strongly affecting the course of events or the nature of things; significant.
- Having high social rank or influence; prominent.
- Having or suggesting a consciousness of high position or authority; authoritative.
Describing a quality or condition is different than personal status, which is different than meaning. Something strongly affecting a course of events is different than having a high social rank or influence. Any way we look at importance, it can be confusing for it has so many dimensions.
What are we to do when considering importance? Bring clarity and transparency around the criteria used to infer importance to a goal, an action, or a request. While guarding against being seduced by urgency or ego. Both of these things will derail the possibility of effective outcomes.
Taking the time to explore why something should be important is time well spent. Hearing someone say something is important should immediately provoke a question of “why”. Slowing us down enough to consider the many challenges with imputing importance before we decide what we should do next.