Why, why, why? (And why it matters.)

BY Jeff Cobb

Here’s a dirty little secret that could bring the FAA knocking at my door: sometimes, when the flight attendant says that electronic devices must be powered down completely at takeoff, I don’t do it.

No, I don’t openly defy the order and continue texting as the plane heads down the runway, but nonetheless, my phone may only be in – gasp – airplane mode. I appear to be going along, but really I’m not.

And there is one simple reason for this small bit of deviant behavior on my part – and perhaps on your part as well: no one has ever explained why my phone, or computer, or iPad needs to be powered all the way down.

This same reasoning applies across your education business, and I’m willing to bet it’s impacting your performance.

Malcolm Knowles suggested long ago that adult learners have an inherent reason to know “why” a topic or skill is important. And yet, again and again I attend conference sessions, Webinars, and other educational events where the “why” behind the speaker’s points is not sufficiently explicit, much less compelling.

I routinely encounter marketing materials that really do not make a case for why I should attend a particular event or enroll in a particular course – especially when I consider the alternatives.

Finally, and most fundamentally, so many organizations seem to be missing a core “why”in their strategy. What is the compelling reason why your organization, or your department, or business unit exists and does what it does? (“Compelling,” I should note, is an important adjective in that sentence.) If everyone involved really understands and shares this “why,” the rest tends to fall into place much more readily.

Often the “why” is not as strong as it could be, though, and so we get nodding heads but no real engagement, unpredictable registration rates, employees who are really only in “airplane mode,” and growth that is, if we’re lucky, modest but rarely breakthrough.

It sounds simple to the point of being simplistic, but it’s well worth the time to gather the right people occasionally and spend an hour or two focused solely on why, why, why.

P.S. – Simon Sinek does a remarkable job of illustrating the importance of “why” to strategy in his TEDx talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”


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