Category: No Wrong Way

Quality cannot be standardized

I’m staying at a resort in northern Thailand, there are many activities including encounters with elephants and boat rides to Laos. As I was scanning the list of options, I noticed a rice planting experience: Try your hand at Thailand’s age-old rice cultivation methods in our resort’s private rice paddy I haven’t decide yet if I want to try it…

The trifecta of Es

Many organizations overly focus on how things are done. Often people debate about the amount of time that should be spent planning versus doing, to avoid wasted time planning what will inevitably change. Usually the debate is between planning for a long period of time (perhaps 1 year) versus planning for a short period of time (perhaps 2 weeks). But…

Beating the dead horse: why matters more than how

I’m constantly in search of analogies to help explain the significance of knowing why something is worthwhile before plowing forward with how to accomplish it. Just when I think I’ve beaten the dead horse a bit too much, I find someone that’s immune to my existing body of analogies.

In my mind I like to think of the interplay of why and how, as taking opposite directions. At the point when someone has an idea, or a request, or a plan, we have two choices about what we do next. We can ask “Why is this a good idea? Why should we proceed?” That’s one direction. Or we could just plow forward with making the idea a reality. In that case we would start out asking “How should we proceed?”

But even this analogy alone doesn’t express the gravity of the dichotomy.

I see this analogy as a person standing still. A two dimensional person.

why or how linear

They can either walk left or right. And if they walk right, assuming right represents how, it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever consider walking left. This represents the sunk cost fallacy that makes it hard for us to question why we’re doing something after we’ve invested in doing it. The more we invest, the harder it is to consider alternatives or stopping altogether. Which can be costly.

Anyways, tonight I tilted the line and I thought of a mountain.

Mountain - how versus why effort versus results

Having an idea is like finding ourselves half way up a mountain. Heading down is easier than heading up. Heading down is akin to asking “How should we proceed?” It’s so much easier than asking why. It’s also much more natural, our brains are wired to head in this direction. We’re problem solvers by default because our subconscious mind likes to jump to conclusions about how to achieve a particular goal. And in the case of an idea, that goal seems to be acting upon the idea.

Asking why is like climbing up the mountain. It’s work. It doesn’t come naturally. It requires engaging the slow, deliberate elements of our mind. But in doing so, we broaden our perspective. Just like climbing a mountain. The higher we climb the better the view. As we climb, we uncover the true nature of what the idea is meant to accomplish. We determine what makes for a worthwhile goal.

The view also affords perspective of alternatives to climbing down the mountain. We might notice the first direction we would’ve taken if we had started out with “How?” would have led us to a cliff.

Once we have the perspective to understand why we should proceed, we can roll down hill in the right direction.

There’s another way this analogy helps understand why asking “Why?” isn’t easy. Not only is it hard work to climb up the mountain, but by default most of us are rewarded for our effort. Employees are salaried, paid for showing up. Contractors are paid by the hour. In both cases we’re paid to apply effort. We’re rewarded for effort. That incentive to apply effort increases the pull of gravity making it even harder to climb uphill.

However, imagine if the incentives worked in the opposite direction. Imagine what happens when we’re rewarded for results instead of effort. If we’re rewarded for results, then knowing why we’re doing something matters more than what we do. So, results based incentives would be like reducing gravity. Climbing up the mountain would be easier. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that if we could flip the incentives toward results, I might need to redraw the arrows with how pointing up and why pointing down.

Reports aren’t going to save you if the ship is sinking

Way too many people get carried away with reports in business. Often obsessed with what the report contains and not enough on what they can do with the information. They always want to cram more information in, more charts, graphs, data and visuals. But, the overwhelming majority of reports measure lagging indicators. They measure how bad things are. That’s it.…

Don’t take for granted a problem is worth solving

If you’re like me, you love solving problems. And you’re probably pretty confident that you can solve just about any problem. And that level of confidence is a good thing. But, where we often make a mistake is assuming that just because someone puts a so called problem in front of us, that it’s worth solving. It’s just as easy…


Take a moment and scribble down on a piece of paper, define what characterizes a high quality chair. When it comes to an office chair, I like chairs that aren’t pleasant to sit in for long periods of time. I like a modest level of comfort for a short duration. I tend to not want comfortable arm rests either. To…

The cheapest way possible is to understand the outcome

If someone asks me to perform a task, as cheaply as possible, there’s no way for me to be cheap. It’s going to cost whatever I decide I want for the task. If however, they describe a desired outcome, I’m free to chose the cheapest task possible to get there. Likewise if they want to maximize value, I can find…

Spring cleaning, throw out old ideas

If you’re like me, you amass a million stickies containing ideas that in the moment seemed so important you had to get out of bed, scramble for a piece of paper and jot them down. These pile up. Even if you’re diligent about collecting them, will you really go through them? And when you do, will you be able to…