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Unique Contribution – what is yours?

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Unique Contribution – what is yours?

In my one of my recent Blogs –Work as A Calling I reflected on the relationship between Work as a calling and the concept of Vocation. The word vocation has a long tradition in religious traditions. Not only that the concept of Vocational education is used specifically to denote education specific professions and or trades in many Australian States.

It was stimulated by an article (Blog) I read on South West Airlines which highlighted the fact that:

 75% at South West Airlines have identified their work as a calling. It’s a big call!

To continue this conversation I want to focus on the concept of unique contribution.

In one of my very early consulting assignments (1980) my role was the analysis of each job in a work group. I was trained to ask four questions in the first interview?

  1. Name all the work that you do in the role?
  2. Name the most important 5 tasks?
  3. How do you measure performance in this role?
  4. What unique contribution does this role make to the overall result?

There is very little surprising about the questions but the rationale for Q4.

(That if two people were making the same contribution, one was redundant).

This idea of unique contribution was very difficult for the incumbents to articulate. As I considered it, it became clear that it really gets to the heart of a whole range of issues both in business and in life?

So it was more than ordinarily powerful!

The truly great, the truly successful businesses have defined a space which is unique to them (it might be articulated in some form or Core Purpose or Mission statement or it might be it is the identification of their Competitive Advantage?)

As I have been working with Businesses for over 30 years this question has reoccurred on many occasions both for businesses and individuals. The concept of uniqueness in a business environment is especially challenging – and it is those who have done the work thinking about it and defining it clearly who do well.

At an individual level, it is especially challenging. Human beings are like diamonds – each one unique and special. And there is a different perspective for each person.

In my reading over the past 18 months, the following related concepts have emerged.

  • Personal Branding (Clark)

Personal Brand – everyone has a personal brand …really what we are talking about is your reputation..

Reinventing You.Harvard Business Review Press. Dorrie Clark 2013

Onlyness is that thing that only YOU can bring to a situation. As you see yourself, others can see you and the value you bring.”

  • True North
    • is your orienting point- your fixed point in a spinning world-that helps you stay on track in a spinning world…. It is your internal compass, unique to you, that represents who you are at your deepest level. P1

Bill George  in his book  Discovering your True North traverses the  journey of a number of executives all who are working/searching for …..

So now we have a range concepts all focusing on the same person and his or her work/life!

  • Unique Contribution
  • Vocation (Calling)
  • Personal Brand
  • Onlyness
  • True North

What are we talking about? Are we talking about the same things or different things and why are these issues/questions important anyway?

Each human being is unique so by definition each human journey is unique. Articulating Uniqueness is the challenge.

Who am I?

Why do I exist?

What do I stand for?

Where am I going?

What difference do I make?

These concepts of Unique Contribution and Vocation (calling) are at the heart of what it is to be human and have been around for a very long time.

There is a very human search to find meaning in our lives – it is often articulated as:

“to find ourselves” – “to become who we can be”- “to become whole” –“to fulfill our potential”.

As it happens work in it broadest sense is at the heart of this search for all of us. At one level our work is a co-creation with the Universe so naturally it is important to our sense of who we are.

Whether you have a job, a career, a technical or professional role or whether you choose motherhood, fatherhood or some other role– this search is the essence of our existence.

Sadly in our society many people actually define themselves almost definitively by their work or their work roles or where they work!

We actually ask the question when we meet people? “What do you do?”

In this society, there are very few who define their identity as Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, sister, brother or friend.

Even fewer who answer the question by describing their state of being – I am happy, sad, joy filled or distressed.

More likely than not we get a specific answer: I am a lawyer, a researcher, a nurse, a technician or I work for Google, Apple or an IT company, an engineering company. In so many ways we define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are? Our society very clearly classifies us as “human doings” rather than human beings!

As I have mentioned before there are some crucial questions which are at the heart of the human journey. Clark Merchant and George are articulating them clearly. The table below attempts to link them all.

 The Question The Concept How they relate

Who am I (are we)?


IdentityAn aggregation of them all
Why do I (we) exist?Mission/Purpose 







What do I (we) stand for?


ValuesTrue North
What difference do we make?Onlyness

Unique Contribution


Where do I (we) fit?


PositionPersonal Brand

Where am I (we) going?


DirectionTrue North

Where have I (we) come from?


My storyPersonal Brand

Onlyness, Personal Brand, and True North are 21st Century conceptions addressing very human questions. These concepts encourage us to continue the conversation on questions that have been with us since time. These questions are not easy and require serious thought and reflection – it cannot be done in isolation.

They are really at the heart of the strategic process in any business and specifically the very first question in the strategic process – often avoided is?

Who are we?

Strategy in Business – Strategy in Life?

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