Which is More Important Why, How or What?

by Jay Deragon on 01/03/2008

Which is More Important Why, How or What?“You’ll have ten minutes to explain the virtual world of social networks.” That was the instructions from a global corporation who asked us to dial into the proverbial Monday morning executive meeting and discuss social networks.So how does one educate business executives about the value of conversational relationships with a ten minute limit set on the conversation? You can’t!

In another example, a Fortune 500 company had engaged us to research their specific niche market as it relates to what the market was doing with social networks and what opportunities could they pursue to create market differential as well as improve customer and employee satisfaction.

Upon finishing the research we began to write the report and send drafts to the appointed project manager within the company. Our first draft was ten pages long. The appointed project managers first response was “we have a rule around here and that is our executives will not read anything longer than two pages.” The essence of the message was “we don’t need to know why and how to do something rather simply tell us what to do and do so quickly.”

Does the “how and why” impact what the final results will be?

Many, if not all, employees of any corporation will relate to the two examples above. Pressed by deadlines and an abundance of task businesses thirst for the “one minute answers” and then when the answers are implemented but do not produce the expected results the blame game begins. Subsequently “pointing fingers at who is to blame” becomes a cultural norm when the “what” answers contained in the two page summaries or ten minute presentations do not produce expected results.

Dr. Charles (Kalev) Ehin, Professor of Management Emeritus and the former Dean of the Gore School of Business at Westminster College writes: ” Have you ever wondered how things actually get accomplished in most organizations despite all the obstacles continuously encountered by the people who perform the day-to-day activities? I’m sure you have unless, of course, you are one of those rare individuals who is independently wealthy and has never worked for someone else. Not surprisingly, all of us have our own individual theories about why businesses survive in spite of the seemingly unworkable systems and processes they frequently employ. Just in case you may have, for a moment, forgotten what those obstacles are let me list just a few of the most common:”

• Unclear goals and objectives
• Ambiguous or unexplained policies and procedures
• Unrealistic deadlines and budgets
• Pressure to do more with less
• Lack of cooperation and teamwork
• Poor and uninspiring leadership
• Lack of open communications and trust

“Can you imagine what gains in wealth, creativity, and social responsibility could be realized if enterprises discovered how to leverage the hidden but powerful attributes that allow firms to make a profit in spite of these barriers? The possibilities are boundless. And think as well about how much more successful mergers and change initiatives in general would be if they could tap into these attributes. Essentially, my focus will be on the nature of the emergent systems or informal networks present in all social entities and what leaders must do to “allow” the tremendous energy and creativity inherent in these systems to support the overall organizational vision and objectives.”

Successful Social Networks are more about the How and Why

The innate power of relationships is the learning element that we adults seem to have forgotten. Part of the element of learning is conversational and without taking time to have a conversation learning is being limited. Half of a conversational process is listening and maybe it is the most important part. If business leaders don’t have time to listen or engage in conversations how will they learn the inherent power of social networks?

I have a five year old son whose constant response to any conversation is “why” which is indicative of human natures desire to learn. Even when you respond to his first “why” he’ll naturally follow up with another “why” until he thinks he’s gained an understanding of the subject matter being discussed. Ironically when he thinks he truly understands something he’ll be the first to correct his father in future conversations relative to whatever he thinks he now understands. Sound familiar?

Business thinking and subsequent institutional behavior has created deficits in learning capacities and capabilities. Finding quick answers to market movements, short term profit pressures and institutional maladies is a repetitive process that robs peoples ability to learn the how and why. Do business leaders really think they have learned enough to simply ask for what without understanding why and how? If we truly found time to have conversations with employees, suppliers and customers what would we learn?

A ten minute presentation or a two page summary may not be enough to understand the power behind a major social movement. Are we so connected to business that our relationships have become disconnected?

What say you?



Christian January 3, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Jay, I see your point, but I also see the Fortune 500’s point.

When a company hires a consultant to tell them what to do, they are paying someone else to deal with the why. They only need to know what to do. You figured it out. They paid you for that, and now they want to get it done. Don’t worry if they didn’t care for the education. They’ll be back if they really don’t get it, right?

Carter F Smith January 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Do you envision many challenges with an attempt by organizational leadership to “master the informal networks?” If they aren’t the “handful of people” would they want to engage those who are? Would the handful be receptive? It seems like we might be assuming all involved will be up to the challenge . . .

David Hinson January 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

” Have you ever wondered how things actually get accomplished in most organizations despite all the obstacles continuously encountered by the people who perform the day-to-day activities?”

Yes – the answer is indeed informal networks; because if every task at every major corporation or entity HAD to be done “by the book” nothing would ever get done.

I have a hypothesis, formed over the past 25 years by direct observation, that every successful company has – at most – a handful of people who make or break the success of that particular company. Sometimes they are personal assistants, secretaries… sometimes they are the CEOs… sometimes they are the spouses / partners of the decision makers.

It has been my experience that those who can master the informal networks within any organization are the ones you find climbing the ladder… and if they can’t find ways to circumvent the ossified hierarchy, then they are the ones who leave and wind up burying you, individually or by joining the competition.

Michael Pokocky January 3, 2008 at 9:31 am

{Here’s a thought} Posted by Seth Godin on January 03, 2008 @ http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/who-you-know.html

Who you know
One of the mantras of networking (and the many social networking sites that people are flocking to) is that it matters who you know. The goal of having a thousand of more friends online is that you’re well known. Connected. A click away.
I wonder if there’s a more useful measure: who trusts you?

Mark Kerrigan January 3, 2008 at 8:50 am

Right on, Jay. Again, you present a very clear and concise position about the challenges administrators of social networks face getting others to join.

Without having a clear benefit of joining to show a potential member, it’s a losing battle. People, for the most part, have so many things weighing on their minds that it is rare for them to be able to devote sufficient time to YOU and YOUR message.

And yes, I have a seven-year-old, so I am all-too-familiar with the “Why?” question.

I always learn from your posts. Keep it up!


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