The Four Squares: Can and Won’t

This week we are diving into the final part of our series on the Four Squares: Can and Won’t. Before getting into it, let’s review the other squares. 

As a reminder, the Four Squares is a mental model that plots the intersection of ability and desire. It is especially helpful to be used in a Moment of Truth to decipher why expectations have gone unmet. 

The first square is Can and Will. This is the square that we aim towards, where we are taking action out of a place of both desire and ability. This is what happens when we have set a There for our lives and taken the steps necessary to train ourselves in what we need to get There. 

The next square is Can’t and Will. This is a great square to be in because it means that you know where you want to go; you just have to take the next steps to get There, whether on your own or by asking help from others.

If you’re in the Can’t and Won’t square, then you need to determine if you haven’t developed ability because you have no desire, or if you don’t have desire because you have no ability. Would getting training change your desire? Because of stereotypes, social pressures, or other outside factors, someone might feel like they’re “not a math person” simply because they have not received any in-depth training in the subject. But getting some training might very well change their desire to participate.

But if getting training has not affected your desire to complete a task, then you find yourself in the last square we will discuss: Can and Won’t. 

A Moment of Truth requires honesty. It can be difficult to admit that you are in a place where you have the ability to complete a project but just no desire. Being honest with yourself and with others is the only way to move forward. 

But how might you have come to be in this position in the first place? 

External Circumstances

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that a lack of desire to complete a task can sometimes have nothing to do with the task itself and everything to do with what’s going on in your life. If you’re struggling with depression, for example, and having a hard time feeling motivated to do much of anything; you need professional help, not a change in vocational tasks. Or if you’re worried about an ill family member or friend, of course you’re going to be wishing that you could be with them instead of completing seemingly insignificant tasks. 

This is why we can’t just look at the symptoms but instead have to dig to find the root of the lack of desire. Is it something that can be fixed internally on the job? Or will it require personal work on your mental health? Is it long-term and systemic? Or will it pass? 

Not Getting You There

A second reason why you might have the ability but not the desire to complete a task or project is that it’s not getting you There. 

As we mentioned in the first post in the series, having a Transcendent There will help you be able to see beyond the drudgery of a task to where it’s going to get you in the future. If you haven’t set a Transcendent There yet, doing so can aid in providing meaning for otherwise menial tasks. 

But if you already have a There for your life, you may have realized that you’re not on the Path to get There anymore. Now, this doesn’t automatically mean that you should quit your current job and go find something that will fulfill your There. Rather, start by having a conversation with your employer about your role and responsibilities and looking forward to where it could lead in the future. You wouldn’t want to be fired without first being given a chance to address the issues at hand. So likewise you should bring up your problems to your employer before deciding to leave, especially if they have shown an interest in the personal development of their employees. 

A Moment of Truth isn’t just for the employee to be honest about where they are at; it can also be a place for the employer to share their vision for the future of both the company and the employee and to work collaboratively towards a solution that works for both parties. Sometimes it turns out the Theres are incompatible or there might not be space at the organization to change your role, and then you can begin to look for where you might go next that would get you back on the Path towards your Transcendent There. 

We’ve used the Four Squares in a business context throughout this series, but remember that it can be used in all sorts of situations. Let’s say I’ve been feeling unmotivated to clean my home, and so I can acknowledge that I’m in the Can and Won’t square and take steps to discover why I feel this way. Or if your child is having a hard time putting away the dishes in the way you want them to, you might realize that they’re actually in the Can’t and Will square and just need further instruction. 

It’s unrealistic to expect to be in the Can and Will square all of the time. That is not the goal. The goal of the Four Squares tool is to be more in tune with why you react the way you do to certain tasks, assignments, or projects, and to seek to understand what can be done to change that reaction if need be. Remember, you can choose your actions and your perspective, but not if you don’t first know what needs changing. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.