Three construction workers were asked WHAT they were doing. The first responded with a WHAT, that he was laying bricks. The second responded with a HOW. He said that laying the bricks was HOW he was building a wall. The third responded with a WHY. That building a cathedral was WHY he was laying bricks.
“He who has a ‘why?’ can endure any ‘how?’. - Frederick Nietzsche
Most of us base our actions based on WHAT the goal is or HOW to get to it, but the important thing is to know WHY one does it. The WHAT and the HOW usually takes precedent over the WHY, because they seem more actionable and easier to visualize. The WHY, on the other hand, takes more effort to rationalize.
Simon Sinek talks about this in his Golden Circle idea. He explains that while many leaders explain their ideas from the WHAT and the HOW (outside) to the WHY (inside), the WHY is the raison d’etre of the idea or the process, the real reason anyone should be interested.
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“People don’t buy WHAT you do or HOW you do it, they buy WHY you do it” - Simon Sinek.
Toyota has an effective technique to discover underlying causes of mechanical problems in their machinery. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the technique involves asking five iterations of ‘Why?’ to help provide solutions for the actual cause, and not just the symptoms.
It may be more effective to ask ourselves not just ‘Why?’, but ‘Why did the process fail?’ This forces us to steer ourselves away from blaming problems that are out of our control, such as ‘not enough finances’ or ‘not enough time’. It forces us to find flaws in our own lives, in the processes we created. Just as how in Toyota, the engineers have to be well-versed in the machinery to be able to diagnose problems, we have to be honest with ourselves while searching for our WHY.
Finding the ‘why?’ for our goals and our lives is essential for finding purpose in our actions. It’s noticeably consistent just how much more gratifying and fulfilling actions and achievements are when they’re done with personal motivation.
It’s surprising just how much integrity and authenticity is brought into us when we have a clear and personally motivating life goal to progress towards.