The Most Useful People

#HurricaneMatthew got me.

Yesterday, my car hit an uncovered manhole in #HurricaneMatthew and it busted a fuel line. Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t ask for help a lot. I’m the first person to write people off who I don’t think will be willing to help (my own self-sabotaging dependability analysis system). In fact, I spent a good ten minutes in my car yesterday thinking about how I could solve all of the issues myself and just walk home in the rain. I digress — eventually I called someone I felt would care. They offered to cancel their preexisting plans to help me and that meant a lot.

Today, after the rain stopped, I texted 6 people to help with my car. Some responded and then stopped texting after I mentioned needing help. A few responded and offered to come, and finally one showed up. He knew nothing about cars, but at the time I just needed a friend and he came through. He was extremely useful to me.


What makes someone useful?

Supply and Demand (Specialization)

A person’s usefulness starts with what they offer in comparison to others and how much it’s needed. A lot of people could “like” a Facebook page for me, but there is a smaller pool of people who could talk through a business question with me (do they own a business, do I respect them?) — and their usefulness increases based on the specialization I need in that instance.

If I need a lawyer, there is a smaller pool of specialized talent than if I need someone to carry flowers to my garden. So the people in low supply (1st variable), but high demand (2nd variable) are going to innately be the most useful to me in that moment. It’s important to recognize that everyone does not operate on the same supply and demand graph, and it changes for each task or need. The fact that you know every liquor at the bar may be a specialized knowledge that increases your demand and use in someone’s life, but certainly not mine.

So I have a task and pool of people to choose from, but before I reach out to these people I have to take into account who is willing to sacrifice time to help me. Say 1000 people could help me with a given task, but only one does. Doesn’t that innately make them more useful to me? Yes. Say only one person could be there for me in a time of need, but they don’t show up — are they useful to me in that moment? No.

Here’s the essential third variable —

The Importance of Track Record (Dependability)

When people show their ability to be useful, they become more useful. It’s an exponential growth. It’s because they move up a ring on the dependability ladder which is arguably the most important variable.

I could need a hammer, and there could be hammers out in the world, but if I don’t have one with me now then a hammer is useless.

Someone who flakes all the time or only comes when it’s convenient becomes less useful than someone I can count on in any situation. In fact they probably move to the “not useful” mental list altogether. Speaking of mental lists —

Here’s an Eisenhower Chart of my thought process that will be used as a reference for the second half of this post. This chart assumes present demand.

Q People

Eisenhower Matrix REMIX.

Q4

These are the people I didn’t think to call or text when my car broke down. 85% of people you pass by will be not dependable and not specialized. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means that your relationship isn’t at the point where they are willing to sacrifice to help you (dependable), or they just don’t have the things you are looking for in your life. This is fine — just smile at them, wish them a nice life, and keep moving.

Q1

This is the person who offered to cancel his plans to help me. These are your people. They are the small number of people in your life that are able to help you in some important way intellectually, emotionally, physically, etc. but the most important part is that they DO help you. They take time out of their day to check in. They drop everything to come help you when you ask. They go above and beyond, because they care and because you matter in their life. If someone is in your Q1, you are probably in theirs… or should be. If someone shows up in a bunch of your matrix Q1’s for different issues then they are best friend material. #RIDEorDIE

Personal note: I have very few of these. Which makes them all the more useful to me. And sometimes, or usually, I just assume that they are Q2'ers so that I don’t impose on them. Lesson: Don’t assume people’s positions…ask them or look at their track record.

Q2

These are the people who responded, “hey” and then fell off the planet when I needed them to give a bit of their time. These are the people you hold unto unnecessarily. They have things you need/want — whether that be emotionally, physically, intellectually, etc. but the fact is that they aren’t at the point where they care enough about you, or are willing to sacrifice the time. That’s fine. No one can care about every person in the world with the same vigor. There are other people out there that Q2'ers are meant to be Q1'ers for — let them go so they can find those people! :)

These are the LEAST USEFUL PEOPLE. They probably started off helping a few times, and then they just become less and less dependable. They’re a waste of a text — because you thought maybe they cared — but they don’t.

Q3

This was the guy who knew nothing about cars (not specialized), but came through when I needed him (dependable). These people are often underestimated. They may not be the most specialized or best fit for your needs at the moment — but by golly are they dependable. And when that Q2'er let’s you down, a Q3'er is always there to have your back. They come through and in my mind, that makes them almost as useful as Q1'ers.

Digest of Q2 and Q3

Someone who is highly specialized, but not dependable is less useful than someone who is not specialized, but highly dependable.

In Summary

The most useful people fill holes that others can’t fill

That isn’t just about physical tasks — it also applies to intellectual pursuits, emotional needs, etc. Because as humans we are complex and require different things. If you can help someone with something that no one else can then you’ve found the golden goose of usefulness.

The people on your matrix may change depending on your need

The most useful person in one person’s life would not give another person equal amount of use. It’s a different graph for every person, and you fall on a different quarter in different people’s lives. There are certainly people in your quarter 1 for EVERYTHING. And that’s great as well.

Again,

If you want to be the most useful, find a role that you can do that cannot be done by others and be dependable. Maybe you’re the only one who can operate the 8th node of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 that will fly us into space, or maybe you’re the only one someone feels comfortable crying in front of. Both are places of equal use, help, privilege, and honor.