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.

1 Response to “The power of why”


  • Beethovens personal why is an inspirational example and is the spark that is the platform for everything he did from there. Can you adopt the same why for yourself? Is it not unthinkable for you to not start producing all that you felt called upon to produce? What is it the greater, the highest calling that you feel called upon to produce? If you don’t know what it is and most people do not quieten their mind to reflect deeply to recognise what this is, then why would you not make it your number one priority to search and discover what that is? Once you know, why would you waste your time not scheduling each day as your highest priority to work on producing that greatest calling?

    Most people go through times in their life of crises and change, even an identity change in some cases. It is true not only that people can find themselves loosing sight of their calling. Most people never find or live their greatest calling? Do you want to step up to be all you can be? If not why not? What have you got to gain for being less? If you feel stuck and lost then the answer is not out there it is through you. Consistently take time daily to quieten your mind and reflect. Resolve to identify and remove inner conflicts that block your from seeing what you feel called upon to produce. Be patient and know that you will find it.

    Beethoven produced at least 7 significant musical compositions, after becoming completely deaf. What he produced with each signature composition was a combination of sounds, resonance, harmony, syncrhronocity, and contrast. This why that drove Beethoven was not a singular goal or event, it was not just for himself, it was however his defining purpose to use his greatest talent to be and produce that of his greatest calling and with that conviction to be no less he created works of art that some people will still appreciate perhaps 1000 years form now.

    Now listen deeply. Listen now. There is only ever now in this moment. What is it that there can be nothing greater for you to do to be compelled to produce? Never give up till you know and if you do this, it will manifest in you and when it does it will transform you to be your best lift your game and you will do great works and it will be unthinkable to do less.

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