# 81: The “Why” Counts

Story behind the Passage

Life is really strange. You try to understand things for many years but it simply does not happen. Yes, you move forward a bit but the really big thing simply remains hidden. And then, all of a sudden, you realize how everything that you have been hearing and seeing all these years is connected. This leads to a clarity that is hard to describe. It is a clarity that makes you so calm and so motivated and energized at the same time that it is not difficult at all to keep your balance in a highly productive way.

I am thinking about the art of sales a lot these days. For sure, I know a lot about sales because it is the most value-creating people business in every company. What I did not fully realize before is how much I have been into sales without even consciously thinking of it. The more founder teams I study and the more entrepeneurs I talk to, the more I realize how important excellent salespeople are. But this is only one side of the success story. The other side must be balanced by the more fact-oriented folks; those who like number-crunching and do not care much about emotional talk.

This need to balance both sides is expressed in Sinek’s chapter entitled “Those Who Know WHY Need Those Who Know HOW.” The book is about the importance of asking for and knowing the “why” of everything you do. You might think that this is not rocket science and people like Sinek should not spam the book market with stuff like this. Still, he has a point and the question of asking “why” is obviously a deeply philosophical one. Children ask “why” all the time because they are curious — as curious as any human being who tries to make sense of the world. As we grow older, however, some of us lose this inborn curiosity. This is a mistake, I fully agree with Sinek on this one.

Yes, we cannot always sit in meetings like ultra-curious children and interrupt our boss or negotiation partners by asking “why” all the time. Still, we can ask ourselves if we truly know the why of our job, for example. Why here means: really finding out about what drives you. And if we do not know the answer to this, if we do not have some sense of the deeper motivation that makes us go to work everyday, then we do have a problem. Of course, this problem is our personal issue, so, why bother? If people do not want to worry about their “why,” that is totally legitimate.

True, it is totally fine if people care more about the “how” and the “what.” Since we all have individual personalities, not all of us are on the “why” interrogator side of life. This is great, actually. What I totally like about this work division between the “why” people and the “how” people is that they can live their strengths if they remain authentic. But the most beautiful and helpful thing for the business side is to understand which type you are. That will help you immensely to figure out your true strengths and build on them — by continuously learning.

My Learnings

“WHY-types are the visionaries, the ones with the overactive imaginations.” What I like best about Sinek’s chapter — and the entire book — is that he does not necessarily evaluate the three types. Sure, his focus is on showing that the “why” matters most because it really makes people move. But, as the title of the chapter indicates, all the different types need each other.

Just needing each other, however, does not protect one from conflict. This is what happens a lot if WHYers an HOWers interact. One group is big picture, the other is small picture. What bothers me most, however, is that “overactive imaginations” are very often hard to bear for all others. The most difficult part of this is dealing with this hyper-imagination yourself. Yes, some call this visionary thinking. Others call it insanity. And the trick is to understand that both are right. The route to success is not found in some middle path. It is found in feeling comfortable in one’s personal zone; the one of the visionary who trusts others to be just as excellent when it comes to answering the “how” and “what.”

“They tend to be optimists who believe that all the things they imagine can actually be accomplished.” I am not so sure if Sinek has chosen the right word here. The concept of the “visionary” to me is something very different from “optimists.” What I would definitely say is that visionaries do not just assume that the “things they imagine” can actually be done — they usually have a solid knowledge base and hard evidence that what they are seeing as the future is very much rooted in resources and developments that can be found in the present.

“WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future.” This is the most exciting part about visionaries. At least, I think it is. Seeing things in the future that most people are not seeing could be considered a big advantage. But, actually, I have not experienced it as a great privilege so far. No, I do not want to indulge in self-praise today. I am not saying that I can see the future. Still, what I can see is that most visionaries in the history of business and humankind were ignored or even ridiculed for their outstanding vision — at least, until they succeeded.

For me, personally, this is the foundation that drives my interest in communication. The only chance a visionary has to convince others — to make them see what he/she can already see very clearly — is to create images in the minds of the followers by using words. This is anything but easy. It is freaking hard because it can end up in getting fired and/or being excluded from any formal progress/promotions. In short: they are being punished and ignored for their vision. Corporate/startup history is full of case studies. Steve Jobs is just one example.

But communication is only part of the answer as to how to solve the problem. The other option or rather obligation is to really become better in the field of “HOW.” In other words: visionaries also need to learn how to execute. I am truly convinced of this. All other pathways make you dependent on the skills and resources of others. In the end, you continue being a visionary talker, not more. And you need others to prove that what you are saying can be done.

The result of this is that your visionary thinking fades because, after all, it needs to be rooted in the status quo — I mean the status quo on ‘what is possible right now with the given means.’ I do not think that any true and successful WHY-type lacks this expertise. After all, this challenge of implementing the vision is the driver behind the action. It fuels the energy to get up every day to outperform others. All the examples Sinek mentions at the end of the passage testify to this. But he is right in emphasizing that “they didn’t do it alone.”

This finding came late for me but just right for creating bigger impact.

Reflection Questions

1) Are you a “WHY-type”? Where do you see yourself? Why?

2) What are your personal best practices for motivating followers?

3) Which example from your own work context do you know that provides evidence for the thesis that “WHY-types” need to be complemented by “HOW-types”?

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Founder & CEO of Companypoets

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Silke Schmidt

Silke Schmidt

Founder & CEO of Companypoets

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