Monthly Archive for February, 2013

The power of why

Today’s blog post is priceless and timeless. Priceless because it can be life-changing and timeless because it dates back several hundred ago and it remains timely and relevant to this day… This was submitted to me by Mark Mackenzie of The Graffiti Eaters.

When Beethoven was 26, he started to lose his hearing.  It began as a ringing in his ears that got worse and worse until he was almost completely deaf.  It became so bad that the only way he could communicate with his friends was by getting them to write down what they were saying in a book, into which he would write his reply.

Beethoven’s devastation over what was happening led him to live alone in an Austrian town where he spent time contemplating suicide.  And yet he persevered.  In letters penned to his brothers, he wrote that he remained committed to his work because he saw his art as something that had to survive even if it meant enduring the heartache of not hearing his audiences applaud.  “It seemed unthinkable for me to leave the world forever before I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce,” he wrote.

And so, in the face of pain and struggle, he miraculously continued to compose music.  In fact, some of his most brilliant and famous work emerged during the period that his deafness was at its most severe – truly magnificent pieces like his Symphony No. 9.

The reason Beethoven was able to continue so resolutely in the application of his craft can be attributed to the word why.  As is often said, when the why is big enough, the ‘how’ takes care of itself.  In Beethoven’s case, the why was the influence his music had on the world.

The power of why has been proven empirically by psychologists at Ohio State University.  In a number of experiments, researchers discovered that people who considered ‘why’ they performed a challenging task were more likely to persevere with it.  In comparison, those who focused only on ‘how’ to do it were more likely to give up.

So, if you’re trying to get your employees to be committed to a project or to an activity that’s difficult or unenjoyable, or if you’re eager to get their buy-in for an idea or a change that you know they’ll resist, there is rarely anything more urgent than to articulate why.  In particular

  • Why this?
  • Why now?
  • Why them?
  • Why from you?
  • Why in this way?

The why gives people the purpose to follow your vision and it adds meaning to a job that may otherwise be uninteresting. It may be invisible, but the why is what generates the visible.  To those who are feeling uninspired, it is music to their ears.