If you’ve ever thought seriously about starting, continuing, or stopping much of anything, questions of why and what and how have probably weighed heavily on your mind and heart. Why am I doing this … or still doing this … or ceasing to do this? What, exactly, is my goal in the short, the middle, the longer term? How will I get from where I am to where I’m going? Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that I’ve asked a lot of why, what, and how questions over the past few years on my own journey.
And the order of those questions is really important. I “just happened” to get an email about Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why a few days ago. I read the free Kindle preview and immediately ordered the book … not because it told me anything brand new but because it strongly confirmed something I’ve intuitively known. What and how are great, important questions, and some organizations have great success (at least in the short run) if they start and end with what or how. But I’ve always felt compelled to begin with why.
That’s not the order of questions we all learned early on! That one goes who, what, where, when, why, and how? But apparently, according to the few pages of Sinek’s book that I have read, asking why first is the order that works best a whole lot of highly successful, even world-changing organizations. It’s certainly the order that works best for me.
But what’s the next question after why? Sinek probably addresses that in portions of the book I haven’t yet read, and I know Jeff Walker has excellent advice in his new book Launch. But a few years ago, when I started to realize that my earlier vision of making a good life in the cracks and crannies of factory-model schools wasn’t working so well, I didn’t have the benefit of their thoughts. I asked why several times, probably even the five times that some experts recommend:
Why was I unhappy? Because things weren’t working as they had for so many years. Because that one group of students told me they liked the class but hated the textbook.
Why did they hate the textbook? Because, they told me, it was so flat and dead.
Why did they think it was flat and dead, while they liked the rest of the class? Because they had no real ownership or input into its construction.
And then the solution was obvious: a joyful learning community building its learning materials together. From there to the Tres Columnae Project was a long, difficult road, but the general outline was clear.
But what question came after why? For the longest time I thought it was how … how do we create ownership and input? But as I think about it now, I realize that the next question was what, not how. What would give that one group, and so many others, a sense of ownership and input? That joyful learning community that would build its own learning materials together. Then, almost immediately, the questions of how began to answer themselves. Then came questions of who and where and when … and I’m still not sure what the exact order of those was, or whether it mattered, or whether they were interspersed with each other in some complex way that no one would want (or need) to unravel.
But I do know that why, what, and how came in that order … and I’m pretty sure that made all the difference.
So, as I contemplate several other projects and a new chapter of life that seems to be rapidly beginning, I need to ask those questions again … and I need to be mindful of the order in which I ask them.
Why was I unhappy, or dissatisfied, or less than completely delighted with my work in a factory-model school for the past few years, even though the work was “good” by many measures and we were using the collaborative co-creation model? Because the work of the Latin Family felt so misaligned with the work of the larger institution.
Why did it feel misaligned … or why did I feel misaligned? Because factory-model schools and districts, especially when they’re under stress and pressure from Greater Powers Yet, default to a hierarchical individual model of learning, leadership, and organization (in Richard Elmore’s terms), but my preferred model is somewhere between what Elmore would call distributed individual and distributed collective.
Why do factory-model schools default to a hierarchical individual model? Because that’s how they were originally designed 120 years ago. Are they likely to change? No. Why do I prefer those other models? I just do; that’s a big part of who I am, and I don’t want to change. So am I likely to change? No.
I then spent two or three years asking how. How can I change the factory-model school where I find myself … or move to a different, non-factory-model school? How can I change myself so I can still work from within? How, how, how … but that’s not the next right question.
The next right question was what: What will enable me to do the work I’m called to do, in the distributed framework that will nourish, not starve my soul? Or in the terms I used yesterday, what will make a good life for me and my family?
Once you’re clear about the questions, the answers are a lot easier to find! And I’ll have more to say soon about my answers (and about the how questions that flow from the answers to the what). I wonder what other new insights and discoveries we’ll find as we live the questions and seek the answers that await us all today!