Can’t or won’t

Sometimes it’ll feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Other times, it’ll feel like I’ve been blindfolded and spun around thirty times. Yesterday, it was different. First, I froze. Then I began to tingle with excitement. What happened?

I learnt something. Whilst reading Andy Grove’s High Output Management on my lunch break, I came across this passage. Emphasis mine

“When a person is not doing his job, there can be only two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated. To determine which, we can employ a simple mental test: if the person’s life depended on doing the work, could he do it? If the answer is yes, that person is not motivated; if the answer is no, he is not capable.”


I know it’s a basic idea. But the simplest truths strike us the hardest. This one hit me.

Do you realise how important that passage is? That collection of words can unlock progress in so many areas of your life. Think of any problem you’re having. Do you know whether it’s a failure of competency or motivation? Chances are you don’t. I didn’t. 

But now? Now, before I attempt to develop a strategy to overcome an obstacle, I’ll ask that question: could I do this if my life depended on it? I’ll adjust my strategies according to the answer. And, in the process, save myself a tonne of time and energy.