The What & The Why

Everyone, a friend once said, is always asking the same thing over & over based on who they are. The words change, but the underlying question for each tends to be the same:

  • Project managers are always asking, “Are you efficient? Are you effective?”
  • Artists & product managers are asking, “Do you get it?” (What game are we playing, and how do we keep score?)
  • Engineers are always asking, “Are you a moron?” (Did you consider this, think of that, etc.?)

I thought of this on Monday as Buddhist nun Thubten Chodron spoke at Google. Instead of evaluating the what of things (what did you accomplish, create, earn, etc.), she emphasized weighing the why. What is your intention? Is, for example, a charitable contribution really driven by love of others, or is it meant to stroke your ego?

I can’t claim any deep insight here, but I was struck by the parallel & by the wisdom—in life & in work, especially PM work—of pursuing the Five Whys. Hmm; more thinking to be done.


One thought on “The What & The Why

  1. Not so sure about this. Are we meant to judge only our own motives or also those of others? If the latter, others’ motives are often unknowable, and imputing motives to them seems like a short road to cynicism and disparagement of their accomplishments. The fact that Michaelangelo may have been motivated by ego doesn’t make the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel any less glorious. Moreover, the best motives in the world don’t excuse bad acts. Think of someone who sincerely believes beating his children will make them better people or, a more extreme example, that racial cleansing will improve the world. Even if we limit ourselves to examination of our own motives, should we focus only on how good our intentions are, or is the more important question whether we’ve achieved good results?

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