Explain the why before the how

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

A recent post posed the question, “have you noticed that the more technically proficient your customer is, the more likely you are to receive their specifications as “required solutions” rather than requirements?”

To put this another way, the customer is telling you how to do it before telling you why they want their OSS to do it.

But in most cases our brain has to understand the why before getting to the how. Why do you think kids ask why? why? why? not how? how? how? It’s the way that we learn about the world around us from an early age. Recent research suggests that children as young as 3 understand causality.

So if we all process information this way, shouldn’t we all help our colleagues/customers and put the why before the how? Chances are that it’s not only your customers that are guilty of getting things backwards. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  1. As a technical resource (eg enterprise/solution architect, system engineer, tech writer, etc), do you always provide the context of why you’re building a solution this way? For example, do your architecture documents portray the story or do they dive straight into the details of how you’re implementing
  2. As a salesperson, do you spend a vast majority of your time understanding the customer and preparing a story on why your solution exists in addition to why it meets the customer’s why? Or do you quickly revert to the how, showing how your product does its magic, dazzling the customer with a huge array of spectacular features
  3. As a trainer, do you also jump straight into demonstrating how to use all the features? Many do. But do your trainees have any idea why this new OSS solution is needed or why its replacing their previous mode of operation?
  4. The list goes on, but I won’t bore you further

As someone with a technical background, my first response to a problem is to start formulating solutions (the how), but my mind (almost) always reverts back to needing to understand the big picture and start asking the why questions.

How do you operate? Can you associate with any of the examples above?

The radar analogy springs to mind once again.

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