What is the work you can’t not do?

Circulating on Facebook this morning is a wonderful ted talk from Scott Dinsmore. (It is sad that it is circulating because Scott has just died. 😦 My condolences to his family and friends.) His take away point was simple but profound:

What is the work you can’t not do?

I have come across it in many ways, in many forms, this question. I have heard it asked as “What would you do, even if nobody was paying you?” Or “What would you not want to stop doing, even if someone paid you a $10,000 to never do it again?” I have heard those questions and understood the impetus, but I haven’t ever really had a good answer to it. But recent events have changed that and know I know:

The work I can’t not do is ask questions.

I’ve pegged it as discovery on this blog. It’s part of the exploration I love to do. I love it and it is meaningful, and it is part of the fabric of my soul – I would ask questions (explore and discover) no matter what. There are not always huge rewards for asking questions, particularly for a woman from a fairly low key background. There is a distinct look that comes into someone’s eyes when you have asked too many questions and that listener has just pegged you as a total PITA. It’s one part annoyance and anger and one part “back away from the crazy person”. Every time I start a new job or meet a new groups of people, I vow I’m just going to nod and be polite and not going to cause trouble. I’m interested in what the person has to say and suddenly half-way through a sentence I see that look in their eyes and it’s tooooo late…. I’ve already done it! I am doooooooomed!

The work I can’t not do is ask questions.

  1. Why does there seem to be a correlation between school measures of socio-economic disadvantage and the proscriptiveness of the learning structures used by the school? Why are all the schools I know that use direct instruction in areas of distinct social and economic challenge? Why are all the inquiry based schools I know of in areas of social advantage or high fee private schools? IF direct instruction works, why don’t elite schools use it? Why don’t parents who have a choice NOT choose those approaches? How does this phenomenon relate to the work on questioning and vocabulary completed by the likes of Dan Rothstein?
  2. How can we build communities that work, cities that function in a country where the overwhelming majority of people live in just a few cities and where huge tracts of land a sparsely occupied, without exacerbating existing differences. How can we harness the strengths of transit oriented development without causing gentrification that leads to displacement. What solutions are there for affordable housing in the post-public housing world?
  3. Talking about public housing: What has happened to the vast tracts of public housing that have been sold to the private realms? What do those houses look like now? How does this contribute to the social fabric of the city now, and how did they contribute in the past. What does the design of places tell us about the aspirations of the people who made them? Look at the deliberate decision to build two ‘levels’ of housing in Elizabeth, with small unit housing for public housing of the working class, surrounded by larger homes intended for middle class families.  What does that tell us about the Utopian thinking of the past? And now? And the unintended consequences of public policy and how we can avoid them? With the federal rent assistance schemes, have these public houses become, in essence, privatised public housing? What implications does that have for public planning and policy today?

And I need an answer to the most important question of all: How do I get paid to ask all these interesting questions instead of getting THAT look while I am asking them? 😀 Back away from the crazy person, people!


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