Why not what?

Quote via Steve Jobs, on the one year anniversary of his death.

Starting a couple years ago, I tried to wean myself from asking ‘why’. It was an attempt to get on with things – often times, I decided, focusing too much on the ‘why’ slowed me down. In fights, belaboring why I was feeling a certain thing got in the way of doing something to change it. Communicate better! Don’t get angry over little things! Break up! Oops..

But lately lots of people have been asking me why. “Why are you interested in corporate and social responsibility?” “Why do you want to work in communications?” Predictably, given my avoidance of that word, I’ve been struggling with coming up with cogent answers. This is frustrating, because I really do care about those questions, and I want to impress the people doing the asking. Then, last week in passing, my friend asked me, “have you seen that ‘why’ TED talk? Someone told me it was the most important one to watch if you’re going to watch TED talks.” Okay okay, fine. I’ll rethink this.

The TED talk, by Simon Sinek, emphasizes ‘why’ as opposed to ‘what’ or ‘how’ because of the power to inspire that ‘why’ has that the others don’t. ‘Why’ allows people to match their values to yours, and they’ll do far more to follow a value than an abstract idea. Sinek uses Apple as an example of a company that has this down perfectly. Instead of trying to convince people to buy the beautiful computers they make (the ‘what’), Apple is selling a ‘why’ – an interest in shaking up the status quo and promoting alternative thinking. When people buy Apple products, it’s because they like being on the bleeding edge and promoting alternative solutions, too. When I heard that example, I was like “Oh. That’s why I’m interested in things too.” Okay.

In actuality, answering those ‘why’ questions would help me describe myself much better than I have been. Instead of hearing “what brings you to digital media?” I should be trying to communicate ‘why’ digital media is such a great platform for my broader interest in the politics and flow of information. (To be fair to myself, when this example was real life and not an example, I did say this. The woman interviewing me kind of squinted one eye, and tried again. “But, on an emotional, not intellectual, level – why media?” If I am forced to separate the intellectual and emotional sides of my brain, it probably isn’t a good fit anyway).

Why CSR? Because I think it approaches the problem of increasing sustainability the smartest way you can – by letting idealism and business thrive in equal measure. And because it learns from the past, succumbing to neither the pure idealism of the 60’s nor the rampant greed of the 80’s nor the manipulative, exploitative uses of new technology from the 00’s. Because it seems like the only solution for companies interested in anticipating the trends of the 21st century.

And why communication? Because, as long as I can weasel my way into a firm that is picky about their clients, it is another way to support companies looking to this new way of doing things. And because so many communications firms present themselves, not just their clients, this way. Even if it is mostly self-serving spin, at least we share a belief that thinking this way is important.

I like having all the answers before I answer a question. I don’t like being wrong. And the fact that my answers to both these questions are so broad, and so similar, makes me wary of using them in an interview. But I know they’re honest, and I understand why that is the most important factor.

…. WordPress won’t let me embed video because I’ve not upgraded my account. Either way, here is the URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html


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