Thursday, March 24, 2016

You May Know HOW – But, Do You Know WHY?

Audio Version available - see player below
This blog article actually began as an email letter I sent to a good friend from our undergraduate college days. After I wrote him, I realized it might make an interesting blog article. As you read it, I hope it provides you with some insight.

I read an interesting article on LinkedIn the other morning by a guy who wrote about why he left the management consulting firm he had been with and started a philosophy company. He was inspired to take this action for a couple reasons.

When he was in college studying philosophy, the college bookstore was going through a renovation. It was in complete disarray. A store clerk had put up a sign - within the stacks of books - that indicated "Mathematics Ends and Philosophy Begins." He decided to make that a personal mantra.

Then he mentioned two big corporate business fails. In the 1980's, AT&T brought in management consultants. They asked the question, should they get into the wireless/cell phone business (service provider)? The management consultants basically said, “No!” It was a fad, not a future trend. So, AT&T fell behind in the massive emerging industry that wireless communication has become. 

Listen to the Audio Version: 

The other corporation was Digital Equipment Corporation or (DEC). They were a major competitor in the computer hardware and application industry. Their management consultants told them the same thing about personal computers. As a side note, Digital Equipment was one of the subscribers of my SuccessTrax Audio Magazine during the 1980's.

The result? AT&T took a long time to catch up and become the #2 in the wireless communication industry instead of being the #1 they could have been. DEC, at one time one of the largest and most profitable companies in the computer industry, is GONE! KAPUT! Out of business!

How And Why

I agreed with the ideas this author put forth. He boiled it down to these two words - "How" and "Why." Anyone can learn and acquire the HOW. That's the numbers, the mathematics of business, so to speak. That's what the management consultants focused on in the AT&T and DEC examples. They weren't alone, either. There are a lot more examples just like them including in the automotive, electronics, entertainment industries, etc.

The author of the article said it's about the WHY that makes things happen. This Why thing goes back to Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Jules Vern and others who were searching for the Whys of life. Why do people do what they do? Why do they want what they want? Why do some people want to be in business and especially a particular business? Why do business people want to make the sacrifices or pay the prices for what they want? Why will people patronize their businesses and buy their products and services?

Once you've established the Why of anything - the philosophy, if you will - then you can acquire the How and implement whatever it is. It doesn't matter whether it's building a business, acquiring a home, planting a garden, utilizing modern technology, traveling (like I do or in some other manner), choosing a lifestyle, selecting a mate/partner, etc.

It seems to me the Why should always precede the How! For example, earning a college degree. You earn a college degree in math, biology, physics, history, English, engineering, art, law, medicine, and so on. So, you know how to do something. But, why that degree and why that major area of concentration? Are you getting the degree because your parents want you to get the degree – are you caught up in the . . . “my son or daughter the doctor or lawyer” syndrome? Are you getting the degree because it's been drummed into your head that you can't be successful without a degree? Are you getting a degree because you can't think of anything else to do with your time? Are you getting a degree because your buddies, girl/boy friend is getting a degree? I'm sure you get the point.

Getting a degree is almost entirely about learning HOW to do whatever you study. But, WHY are you studying whatever it is you're studying? Once you have the degree, - again, the question is . . . Why? Do you really want to pursue a career in that field? Why? Without the Why to start with, the How is all but useless. Sure, you can practice law, but Why? Because you want to become rich off other people's misery, distress, anger, hatred, poor choices, etc.? Do you want to practice medicine so you can be "respected" as Dr. so & so and live in the high rent district and belong to an exclusive country club?

If we don't know Why we're going down a path, we may find the journey has some very tough terrain. It may even lead us astray . . . perhap, to becoming someone others don't like very much. We might not even like who we become ourselves.

Obviously, this fellow's article made me think. What a concept! It made me think! Holy cow! Why . . . did I become an Industrial Arts Education major? I honestly never had any interest in or plan to teach Industrial Arts when I chose that major. At least I followed through . . . I never did teach it.

I followed the bachelors degree with a masters degree. Why did I get a masters degree in Television & Radio? I was interested in TV and radio. I actually founded the radio station at my undergraduate college. But, truth be known, I really never had any interest in working in a TV or radio station or even a broadcast network.

Could I do any of these things I had learned? Sure I could. I learned the HOW. But, I still didn't have a WHY. I discovered the field of sound and audio recording. I learned those Hows, pretty much, through on the job training or OJT! I didn't need a degree from either my undergraduate or graduate schools to learn the Hows of that field. However, even then, I still didn't have a clearly defined Why. I regularly jumped from one facet of the field to another. I loved the How. I always have and still do. But, the Why continued to escape me.

I've done so many things in the sound and audio recording field that it amazes me when I look back. I further added to that How, experience and skills in video production and systems and book publishing. I was even involved in a small, localized magazine publishing venture at one point. I think we published six issues before we closed up shop. I've had an amazing and fulfilling career, although, at times, it was very stressful and . . . I even failed at some things.

But, I never truly looked for the Why I was doing what I was doing. Yes! I was doing it for money to live and provide for my family. But, how much more might I have accomplished if I had sought out and focused on the real Why? Why was I really in any of these businesses and fields? And . . . what if, when I knew Why . . . I then applied the How?

What about you? I'm sure you know your passions. Did you earn one or more degrees? In what? Why? Did you really apply them to some end you were passionate about? If you didn't earn any college degrees, do you feel deprived? Why? Would it have made any real difference in fulfilling your passion . . . if, you know what your passion is? Why?

The chances are, whether you work in a fast food restaurant or a retail store or in other fields that don't require some kind of special training or learned skill or you trained in a specific, specialized skill or you earned a college degree, you might not be any happier and fulfilled than the next person without knowing WHY.

Why did you choose to do what you're doing or did, regardless of socioeconomic factors? Was it the "stability" of the job and occupation or profession? Did you believe you'd be very successful, marry well, have the perfect family, a fine home, drive expensive vehicles and enjoy the luxuries available to a certain percentage of the population? Was it for the future retirement benefits? Why? What was and is your Why for doing whatever you're doing in your life? How has it all worked out for you?

The Conforming Lemming Herds

I know people who have spent decades employed in the same government or corporate job. Many have worked in the same building, with the same people and doing the same thing for all that time. It wasn't because they necessarily loved or had any real passion for what they were doing or the people they worked with or the people they served, but never met or had any relationship with. They did the job for the government or corporate retirement plan. That was probably their only real Why. Many are retired now. They still don't actually have a Why for the rest of their lives. Many are bored and less than happy in their retirement.

This dovetails with many of the philosophies of people like author and speaker, Larry Winget, (check him out if you don't know of him) and . . . the late comedian, philosopher and social commentator, George Carlin. My late, dear friend, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones wrote and spoke around the world about these same issues. It's the same all over.

Basically, I'd say these “thinkers” believe or believed - the vast majority of the “lemming herds” have no idea WHY they do what they do, live where they live, live the lifestyle they live or buy the things they buy . . . other than, it's pretty much what everyone else is doing and . . . what's expected of them.

It's what their parents did and their grandparents before them. It's what their siblings and cousins did. It's what the neighbors did. Their Why is because it's what everyone else is doing. People seem to conform to the belief, that's what is expected of them. Get married! Have a family! Work for a specific business for a specified number of years! Live in a certain kind of house in a certain neighborhood - whether it's a hovel in a ghetto or a mansion inside a walled compound. It's what's expected of them.

I believe this is why our entire educational system sucks and fails most of the kids - from pre-school to postgraduate doctoral programs. Almost NO ONE - not parents, relatives, religious leaders, teachers, college professors, employers - ever focuses on Why anyone wants to do anything. The focus is always seems to be on the HOW!

The reason students don't do well in school and college, other than either just getting by or excelling at the, mostly, pablum curriculum, is because they don't know WHY they are there - other than - they have to be there. There are, of course, those who may be a little more motivated to get into a "good college" - either by self motivation or by parental admonition of pending doom if they flunk out. But, the circumstances are still the same. The good students, who excel, are conditioned to the process. The mediocre students, who just get by, are conditioned to the process. The flunkies, who do poorly, are conditioned to the process.

Brian Tracy is a multi-millionaire , a successful businessman, consultant, speaker and best-selling author. He is a native of Canada. He is also . . . A HIGH SCHOOL DROP OUT!!! He was bored with school and what they were teaching him. He was way ahead of them. He was never challenged. No one cared about his Why. He didn't give up on school - he gave up on the system. He went out on his own with his Why and learned How to do everything he needed - to fulfill his Why.

Instead of focusing as much as the system does on all the Hows - and the system doesn't do a very motivating job of that - maybe a revolutionary approach might be to focus on the Whys of a successful life, regardless of how those successes might play out. Each individual, deep in their inner heart and mind, has a Why hidden in there. How can an individual discover that their Why is to be:
  • a successful white water rafting guide on the Colorado River
  • a successful treasure seeker finding treasure on sunken ships or in lost caves in jungles
  • a craft shop owner who makes her own crafts and sells those of others
  • a musician who successfully plays music six nights a week and makes $50 or $100 or $1,000 a gig
  • a restaurant server who loves making everyone's day with a big smile, a warm hello, a listening ear, a big piece of fresh, home-baked pie with vanilla ice cream and a cup of fresh hot coffee
  • an engineer who found a way to make cars more cost effective and efficient
  • a radio host who loves to make people's commutes, to or from work, more enjoyable
  • an author of children's books who loves to see children exploring, creating and discovering their Whys
  • etc., etc., etc.

The possibilities are limitless.

This is what our lives should be about, especially at the stage when we've already been down the earlier paths. Whether we want to believe and accept it - or not - most of us have done many of the lemming herd things. It didn't SEEM like we were conforming at the time, because we didn't know the difference. Now, hopefully, we do know the difference.

A Time Of Enlightenment

If we had only sought out our Whys when we were younger. If someone would have challenged us to just not become a good choir singer, school athlete, writer for the school newspaper or sandlot stick ball player. Suppose the challenge was the WHY we wanted to become a good at any of these - or hundreds of other things. Maybe, just maybe, we would have walked away from our childhood games and experiences with some actual wisdom. Or, maybe . . . we might have spent our time in some other pursuit we were actually passionate about.

It sounds unlikely that something like singing in a choir, school athletics, writing for a school newspaper, etc. could actually provide wisdom . . . and change a life. BUT, with the knowledge of Why we do anything, we'll make wiser, more intelligent choices in life. This should lead to a successful life, on a person's own scale of success, along with a happier and more fulfilling life.

Let me run this by you. I've owned two homes. I've rented my homes the rest of my life. I, personally, didn't like home ownership. When I owned homes I felt trapped in those places. Selling was stressful. It was costly in time and money because I had to make sure the house would attract some buyer I couldn't give a damn about. Additionally there was the constant - of dealing with taxes, HOA's, local, state and federal governments to varying degrees, time consuming maintenance, costly repairs, routine upkeep, etc. I bought the homes because my accountant said I needed to own real estate for tax reasons. I was simply buying into . . . and, conforming with the lemming herd mentality. I didn't know any different at the time. But, the homes felt like a burden I didn't want on my back.

I got out of home ownership over 30 years ago. Since that time I've lived in nicer and better homes than I could have afforded to buy, in locations I loved living. I enjoyed a GREAT lifestyle for considerably less money than if I owned the properties. I had minimal upkeep, maintenance and no repairs, since those were the property owner's responsibility. When I was ready to leave, I gave 30 days notice, packed my stuff - and left. There were NO hassles with real estate agents, people traipsing through my place at all hours of the weekdays and weekends, dealing with insulting offers, etc. Home ownership is right for a lot of people. It wasn't right for me and I'm so glad I realized that back then.

My Why was not to have this asset that I was going to probably just break even on if I stayed in it long enough. Financial cost analyses show that very few people who buy homes to live in, actually, come out ahead. This is, of course, when accounting for the costs of owning and operating the house, interest on mortgages, required insurance, inflation, cost of living changes, and the change in the value of the dollar by the time the house is sold after a 30 year mortgage. And, seldom does anyone break even if they sell before that. Only investors who buy and flip houses quickly, or buy cheap and rent the properties, actually make any money on houses. And, of course, that depends on the fluctuating economy.

For me . . . my Why was not to have the status of home ownership. My Why was to enjoy living in houses located in places I wanted to enjoy living with the least amount of stress, responsibility, expense and hassle as possible. When I had enjoyed a house and location as much as I wanted to, I could pack up and move anytime I wanted to. The real estate market and the economy had little to do with my decisions. Actually, when the real estate market was in a downturn, it was often to my advantage.

I learned How to seek out the real deals. I lived like a minor monarch most of my life, thanks to figuring out that particular Why in my life. Once I knew my Why, I learned How to find what I wanted and get to enjoy it.

What Are Your Whys Or When Do You Plan To Uncover Them?

Enough! I hope I gave you some things to think about. I think, like me, you're STILL trying to find the solutions in the Hows . . . and, a system that's proven to be ineffective. I think, like me, you need to figure out your Whys.

If you know Why you want to do what you're doing, then you can acquire the Hows if you don't already have them. Some people will "get it" and choose to change and pursue their Whys. Some will become positive forces in the world. Some will become negative forces. We are ONLY responsible for the choices we make for ourselves. Perhaps, we may inspire others to seek out their Whys. Maybe that's one of your Whys. I already know it's a major Why for me.

Live FREE and BE happy. EH


Richard Rosen said...

Confirming what you said and about most people entering into work without having an idea why, my first job was as a computer programming with a defense contractor. I got this job only because my good college buddy landed work there as an engineer and suggested I give it a try. Applied, accepted, and walked into a great ground floor opportunity in the computer industry in 1969. Wow!

It was only after year and a half that I recognized this is not something that made me happy. While I enjoyed the engineering aspects of programming, it didn't lead me to ultimate values in life (which school never even hinted at), and I was limited in my relationships with other people, which I discovered is important to me. I'm a people person. So I left that job and ever after have sought the “why” in any work I have done. And that extends to every aspect of life.

You are right on about the educational system. My view is that the primary purpose of education is to teach ethics, morality, and values, which is an aspect of philosophy (thinking through concepts such as truth, existence, reality, causality, and freedom). Obviously, there is also a skill component to education, but that's secondary. Once the art and ability to think through the issues of life are achieved, what you want to do in life and why you want to do it is founded in reality. From this all else follows.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks for your valuable insights, Richard. Good points and affirm my thoughts.