Why are you trying to accomplish that?

At most internal meetings, a few external ones and a lot of advisory meetings, I regularly start by asking “Why are you trying to accomplish that?”  Most entrepreneurs, managers or employees want to get into the how things should get done before asking themselves why it should get done in the first place.  For most of the last 30 years, asking why has been dedicated to ascertaining the root cause of a problem or determining in  80 / 20  fashion whether to do something or not.  There have been management processes established and corporate retreats held to learn how to ask why.

Recently and as I can start to see coming on the horizon, asking why matters intrinsically.  I ask founders who have already baked their business plans, maybe even raised money and in some cases have already launched their ventures or products why they chose to do what they are doing.  Most repeat to me their “vision” or their mission statement or some high-minded goal of saving the planet.  I then ask it again and they look at me like I have three heads .  I persist and ask them if they understand the psychology of why they are embarking on this journey.  A journey that will occupy their mornings, their nights, their dreams, their lives, their capital, all their resources and the resources of others.  Frequently, they have not considered that question, the psychological one.

More often than not, they have not spent a lot of time yet going deeper, going into their own motivations to understand why they are undertaking what lies ahead.  Once they start to think on it, the results are quite profound.  Sometimes they come up empty and lose their place in time and the world and start to question their existence.  Sometimes they double down on their efforts.  And sometimes, they shift their focus to what they now know is most important.  Getting to know why you do something, why you desire something, or why you want to make a difference is the most intrinsically valuable ctivity you can do for yourself and only then can you benefit the people you lead.  After all, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there (HT: Lewis Carroll)

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