Why: A concept appearing in seminal works such as Viktor Frankl’s powerful, autobiographic book, Man’s Search for Meaning and the somewhat esoteric philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
In more recent times Simon Sinek returned this simple word to center stage with his book, Start with Why and his TED talks on leadership.
The power of ‘why’ in business is far from a new concept. ‘Ask why 5 times’ became a fashionable form of root cause analysis, emerging from the famously successful Toyota Production System and attributed to Sakichi Toyoda, the company's founder.
But, it’s not just useful in understanding how something failed … So many key aspects of behaviour depend upon this simple word – ‘Why’.
David Rock, in his book Quiet Leadership, describes the brain is a “connection machine”. It continually works to make sense of what we experience; relentlessly asking itself why, but far too often relying upon assumptions to complete the puzzle. Rumors are a great example of this.
Whilst I am a big fan of asking why, I am equally a fan of telling why.
People are often far more interested in why a decision was made, than the actual decision. Providing this information allows them to make value judgements which help them align with the leaders or the organisation, crucial for their support and engagement.
Authority is not a sustainable explanation for curious decisions
Then, there is what I call “assumed intent”. This often occurs when the evidence is scant but the impact seems significant. It is the tendency to try to explain observations by connecting them to some intellectual, moral or ethical judgement of the person(s) responsible. Unchecked, this can lead to a range of flawed thinking habits, such as confirmation bias – where information is subconsciously accepted or rejected on the basis of whether it fits current beliefs.
Finally, there are volumes of published research showing the increasingly clear links between meaning, motivation, performance and well-being. If you want to find out what your people are truly capable of, focus on creating intrinsic motivation by helping them find meaning in their work and life.
Help people ‘find their why’ … or at least, make sure they understand yours!
It is a win-win-win strategy.