Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

Understanding your Context, Purpose and Skills (Drucker, Part 2)

This is the second post in a series on applying Peter Drucker's four factors of a theory of business to the way we work and think as organizers and individuals. The first factor Drucker suggests we ought to wrap our minds around is the need to understand our context, purpose, and skills as individuals. What does that mean?


Coming to grips with your context is a challenge. It involves stepping back from where you are right now (in your organization, in your career, in your life) and taking an honest look at your environment and your role in it. It requires asking yourself questions like these:

  • Who, really, are the people you share your daily life with, and what drives them?
  • What kind of environment do those people create?
  • What kind of environment does your behavior create?
  • What constraints do your day to day commitments put on the opportunities you can pursue?

Your answers to these questions--if they're honest, and not-self-serving--can help you form a realistic picture of the slice of the world that surrounds you. If you want to understand how to move forward from where you're standing, you have to know where you're standing. Getting to know your context is key for that.


Do you know why you do what you do? Maybe this one is easy. Maybe you get up in the morning and run to work because you do work you believe in. But can't that get hard to remember sometimes? When you're knee-deep in a tedious slog, maybe working with people you don't like, maybe unclear on how this project fits into the vision you're pursuing? This is a question where it's useful to be a little selfish: why do you do this work? What does it mean for you, what do you get out of it, how does it transform you? What's the end you're pursuing with this work?


What are you capable of? Do you stretch your capabilities to test the limits of your skills? Do you need to learn more to continue to grow? How would you go about doing that? What needs to shift in your life to make time for the new learning you should be doing?

If we want to continue to develop as members and leaders of our communities it's crucial to understand our place, our reasons for action, and the projects we're capable of taking on. Just as important as understanding these three categories, though, is that they all reinforce one another. I'll say more about this in the next post in this series.