A couple of weeks ago I put in a help desk service request at work. When it was done, the tech put a note on the ticket that said, “needful done.”
It’s a curious phrase that we don’t see much here in the US, so I looked into its origin. An Indian English colloquialism, probably a holdover from British colonialism, “do the needful” has made itself into our multinational, multicultural modern business language: “Do whatever is needed to get the job done.” It implies an inherent pride of workmanship or taskmanship or ownership.
The phrase has been rumbling about in my brain since I heard it. And what’s got me flummoxed is that we often take the shortest route to get a thing over with, to check the boxes, as it were, in the least amount of time. Boxes ticked without so much as a backwards glance, we’ve moved on to the next thing in record time…or with time to spare in order to do two things faster than the next guy so we can pass Go and collect our $200. Yay, us! It sometimes feels like “Do (only) what’s needed to get the job done (so we can get onto the next thing before this one eats us alive and we don’t get all the toys and can’t win).”
Having spent a few weeks in India a few years ago, I realised that time is different there than here in the US. Because transport and traffic and bureaucracy (and, often, necessities like power and water), are unpredictable, there is a real need to be hyper-efficient. But culturally, there is a duty to be aware, and to listen and ask and clarify and act according to what is specifically needed by the recipient. Quality and quantity seem equally respected, yet juxtaposed with the ideals of rapid delivery and scalable execution.
It’s Earth Day, so maybe I’m more reflective than usual on the idea of waste (time, money, materials, energy…). Or maybe I’m overworked these days so I’m more reflective on the concept of economies of scale and efficiency.
Regardless, I like the idea of Do the Needful.
I’ve got a project at work around the idea of Customer Success and I’m tasked with educating on customer outcomes. I’ve had to listen and learn and figure out how to explain to hundreds of colleagues across cross-functional teams what their definition of success is, and how they define successful outcomes. And it occurred to me today, as I was walking my dog (which, by no small coincidence, is when many of my “aha!” moments transpire), my job (all our jobs, really) is to Do the Needful. Because my work helps you do your work, which helps someone down the line work more efficiently or treat patients or save money or, better yet, save lives. I may only contribute a small piece of the puzzle, but it has to be the best — not necessarily the speediest or the sparkliest — thing I can do with what I’ve got, so that the next person can continue down the line and ultimately help the client succeed.
This I also thought this morning: But sometimes what’s needed (I mean really needed) isn’t production; rather, it’s stillness or contemplation or time for creative steeping, like tea leaves that finally hit peak chai. Those ideas that come when I’m walking the dog or in the woods or staring at the ceiling at 4am, come precisely because the other chaos isn’t, for the time being, being attended-to.
So on a week where, by forces outside my own inertia, I’m supposed to be on holiday but I’m not, I’ve decided to pay more care to Do the Needful each day. I create for a living. I create for my own equanimity and well-being when I’m not trying to make a living. I’m tasking myself to create something that can be celebrated each day; to find what’s needed and make it count in a small if not immediately extraordinary way.
This weekend I picked up random plastic on the beach. I went picture-taking at a new nature preserve to feed my tired soul. And I conjured a magic potion for a friend’s. Today, I’ve written these words. This afternoon, I took more steps forward than back on a project’s madness. I left work before 6.
Which of these things was most impactful, I can’t say. But as I fall asleep, I’ll ask tomorrow about its needful and see what I can do to get the job done.