I was going to write about asking “Why not” instead of “Why” – which is advice I’m hearing often – but then I decided differently. While well-intentioned, I think that advice might drive the wrong behavior if it’s heard and understood the wrong way.
In many meetings, we tend to focus our time on why things won’t work, why they are hard, and why we cannot do them right now. We are guessing what might (!) hold us back or make things complicated.
Well, anything that is worth doing and any problem worth being solved tends to be hard and complicated. The easy stuff had already been done a long time ago.
Instead of looking at the challenges, we need to look at the opportunities: what do we gain, what can we enable if we solve this problem? Is it a worthwhile endeavor? How does this rank against the other things we could be doing with our time and energy?
Once decided, we need to stop thinking about why it’s hard and instead start focusing on how we CAN do it. For every problem, there is a solution. It might not be easy, it might not be quick, but there is a way to get it done. Dwelling in the challenges will only discourage us and waste both time and energy.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for ignoring challenges and problems to be solved. I’m instead saying that those problems need to be identified, acknowledged, written down, and then tracked to resolution. That is the productive approach to deal with challenges. Reiterating, discussing, and dwelling on them without concrete action is the unproductive approach. Once you identified a problem, you write it down, find a time and owner and move on.
Once we decided that something is important, we must only be concerned about how we can get it done and finding a realistic approach, plan, and timeframe. We must not waste our time discussing why it’s hard, and we cannot waste our resources looking for easier projects that we can tackle instead. The important stuff tends to be hard.
Back to the “Why not” advice that I poo-pooed earlier – It’s actually well-intended as it challenges us to instead of asking “why do we need to do this” rather get in the mindset of thinking, “yes, why in the hell would we not do this”. Always starting with the “Why” and assuming that there is value in a new project, initiative, or change is a good thing. Dwelling in reasons not to do something that is useful is wasted energy.
Just for the fun of it, here’s a list of a few things that were impossibly hard at some time: personal computers for everyone, finding stuff on the internet, a smartphone for everyone, streaming the movies you like to watch, getting an online order delivered the next day, electric cars, GPS for everyone, online banking,… – well you get the idea. All of those were solved by people who chose to focus on how to overcome hard problems instead of discussing why they are hard to solve.
Since we’re talking about starting with the “Why”, here’s a recommendation for one of my favorite business books:
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Everything always starts with the “Why”. If you know your “Why”, you know your purpose and motivation. If you know the “Why”, it will be easy for you to enlist others for your cause.
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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
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