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The Responsibility Poem

Pieter Wijkstra

Charles Osgood

Charles Osgood is best known a 1930's radio and television commentator from the US. In addition to his radio and tv work he wrote columns and published several books. Recently, his 'Responsibility Poem' was brought to our attention. It is a beautiful little poem that (Whether in a self-organization context or not) illustrates clearly how important it is to make responsibilities extremely clear and transparent!

There is the original, and a condensed form. Both are great so we've decided to include both.

Condensed Version

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody couldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Full Version

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?

Anybody could have told you that Everybody knew
That this was something Somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling; Anybody had the ability.
But Nobody believed that it was their responsibility.

It seemed to be a job that Anybody could have done,
If Anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since Everybody recognized that Anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that Somebody would.

But Nobody told Anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And Nobody took it upon himself to follow through,
And do what Everybody thought that Somebody would do.

When what Everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that Somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And Everybody looked around for Somebody to blame.

Somebody should have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end, Nobody did
What Anybody could have.