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Jim Benson


Filters of Responsibility

‘We see things we want to be different, but we don’t act because there are so many of them’

Published: Thursday, August 15, 2019 - 12:02

Responsibility. It’s a hard word to come to grips with. What is the responsible thing to do right now? What is my personal responsibility? What is my responsibility as a team, family, company, state, or country member? What do I expect from others?

The world now is in transition, from being controlled by a race of people with very little information or opportunities to act, to one overwhelmed by both.

You live in this world. I live in this world.

Every day I am confronted by options to make my home a home, to eat, to further the mission of Modus Cooperandi, to help my clients improve, to write, to make music, to relax, to exercise, to see more of my beautiful world, to respond to the inefficiencies or the outright injustices of the world around me.

And we ask people to “be lean” or to “continuously improve” in this soup of emotions, frustrations, desires, goals, brick walls, open doors, confusion, certainty, and overcooked eggs. People can’t act. We are trapped.

I have written in Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2014), and Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) the same message:

When we are overloaded, we cannot act.

It’s a simple and unfortunately profound statement in a world plagued by overload. We see things we want to be different, but we don’t act because there are so many of them. When we are trapped in this choice soup, we act by proxy. We complain, we argue on Facebook, we act out, rather than act. And our brains reward this by interpreting the complaining (venting) as action.

So, if we’re really lucky, we’ll choose the improvement opportunity closest to us. Russian interference in our elections or cleaning the kitchen? Kitchen wins... or the kitchen is such a disaster that Netflix wins... or Netflix requires focus so Facebook wins. And we’re just complaining again.

Expounding on the simple statement that we can’t act when we are overloaded gained Tonianne and me a Shingo Award. That was nice. But people are still overloaded. Our revolutionary proclamation did not change the world overnight.


Today, for me personally, my primary job is to take all the options in front of me and figure out how I can best change the world. That will come from finishing the next book, it will come from getting today’s proposal out, it will come from scheduling the next Kaizen Camp.

But the root of all that is responsibility. To take a look at all the things the world wants to hold me accountable for, figure out for myself what is and is not appropriate, cancel my subscription to the blame-trails that impede completion, and look for the best paths to product and innovation I can find.

To accomplish this, I need to balance a great many needs—some are mine, some are not. Responsibility, by definition, is not selfish. Removing myself from other people’s expectations might sound that way, but too many expectations guarantees failure. Honesty about what we can provide might not be enjoyable and might disappoint people, but it’s honest.

So, we must ask: What can we get done? What cool things can we do? How can the people I care about end today better than when they started it? What can be improved? Where can I help? What form does my help take?

Any business owner knows these worries. How do I keep my people fed? How do we grow? What new challenges do we face? What administrative things need to be done? What client needs must be served? Where is innovation or improvement going to come from today?

These are the filters of responsibility. What can I get done by the end of today so I know I am being responsible?

I can guarantee you, responsibility is not found on Facebook; it’s not being indignant. It’s not engaging in polar party-based cartel politics. It’s not taking on 500-percent more work than you can handle. It’s not saying yes to everything. And it’s not complaining.

Take your options, filter them with responsibility. Find the paths to completing quality work and improvement. Act.

Responsibility always leads to action.

Please, for the sake of everything, just act.

Just released: New online class on prioritizing your work with Personal Kanban: What Do I Do Next?


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.