It’s a short but profound little question, “why?”. Why influences a persons motivation to choose one path or thing over another. In the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek that I’m currently listening to on my commute between Vancouver and Maple Ridge, the author introduces the golden circle (watch the TEDx video). So many companies and individuals are focused on what they do and how they do it but miss the mark of why they are doing it. In his book, Simon uses an example of when MP3 players came out. Manufacturers would talk about what these did or had such as how many gigabytes, how long the battery would last, etc. When Apple produced the iPod, they focused on why you would want one. They described a lifestyle, talked about why you would want 1000 songs in your pocket, etc. Once you were hooked, you would ask about what such as how much memory. Apple wanted to change your life as you experienced music, not just sell you a better MP3 player. Clearly they answered the why. Bill Gates, believing that having a computer with access to diverse software will change lives, wanted to put a PC in every home – he believed that Microsoft’s software would make that happen. It did (for the most part)…
Essentially, the why is a compelling and inspiring vision for the future, how defines the mission, and what embodies the strategic plan to get you there. It’s interesting how difficult it is for many of us to answer the why question. We often start articulating what we, our company, our product, our project does or will do, thinking we are describing why it exists.
When I decided to join the Vancouver School Board (VSB) in my new role as their CIO, I had to wrestle with why. I had to ponder why I would want to double my commute, face the complex and steep learning curve of a diverse large urban school district. It all came down to this for me: I want to transform learning and work through technology to create a better future for all. This is why I do what I do and why I invest my time in people and processes at the VSB. I want to make a difference for the better. How I will do this and what I will do, well, that’s a complex undertaking that will take years to unfold – I’ll write about this as the journey unfolds. But my “why” will serve to keep me aligned and focused.
One example how to accomplish my why is to increase the access for students to powerful digital learning tools. With better access, the use of technology to transform learning is possible. Just like when kids gained access to their own pencil, notebooks, and textbooks a profound transformation from scarcity to abundance occurred, their technological access will cause a major shift in learning. One of the “whats” I am pursuing is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative. In this rapidly changing world of ours, kids are increasingly bringing powerful devices but in VSB schools, most often they are asked to put them away. This is a tragedy given what smartphones, tablets, and laptops are capable of doing for kids and their learning. We all know how it has transformed our personal lives. Access to unlimited information and knowledge, tools that border on artificial intelligence, tools that enable access to diverse audiences, tools that enable collaboration and sharing, tools that enable creativity in many domains of music, video, art, writing, presenting, mathematics, physics, chemical modeling, robotics, geography, to name a few. The traditional world of knowledge transmission, limited projects, memorization, and testing is ripe for transformation, if only kids had access to the tools and teachers were ready, able, and willing to transform pedagogy to fit new ways.
A second “what” to support my why and the above how, is increasing bandwidth. Currently, this is a huge barrier to realizing the why of transformation and the how of access. A third “what” is providing wireless networking in all learning spaces. You start to see the alignment come together. I find this model to be very helpful to keep me grounded and focused. There are so many things we could do and with limited funds, we must be crystal clear about our what, how, and why or we will work on the wrong things and supporting a why we never set out to pursue.
I think being grounded in why-how-what for individual initiatives is also a powerful approach to implementation. Those of you familiar with Rogers Diffusion of Innovation work will recall the “buckets” populations fall into: innovators, early adoptors, early majority, late majority, and laggards. To successfully implement a significant change, such as a BYOD initiative, your why will need to be tailored to the thinking of each of these groups. If you talk about what you are doing and all the details involved without first hooking them on why you are doing it, you will fail to reach a critical mass with each population. It’s a challenge to stop and think this through, it takes patience to figure out how best to reach different types of people. I wish I realized and understood this when I was early into my career. Then, I could not understand why people didn’t just “get it” the way I did. Now I know… I don’t claim to be an expert at this but I’m learning and adapting all the time.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own professional why, develop clear hows, and anchor your whats back to your why. I also encourage you think about why – how – what for each of your major change initiatives. Also, keep the innovation population research in mind as you figure out your implementation plans.