In 2009 Simon Sinek published an excellent text titled, “Start With Why.” The premise is that in our world today, “What” is still emphasized, forcing customers to evaluate features rather than benefits. Prior to 1990, “features” were the reason that consumers made economic decisions. “Let me show you what this car can do!” “What do we need to do to have you buy this couch today?” “What does this new lawnmower do that the old one didn’t?” During the 1990’s, when the impact of technology began to be felt, more and more companies began to “Sell the sizzle rather than the steak.” The conversation changed from “Stop smoking” to “Avoid getting lung cancer;” from “Connect to the Internet” to “Keep in touch with your friends;” and from “Get a security system for your home,” to “Keep your family safe while you’re away.” The first statement said “What” to do, while second said “Why” it should be done.
Sinek pointed out that the connector between “what” and “why” is “how.” If you re-read the above statements backwards, you’ll see that the “what” statement becomes and answer to the “why” statement when paired with “How.” In other words, “Avoid getting lung cancer.” How do I do that? “Stop smoking.” “Keep in touch with your friends.” How do I do that? “Connect to the Internet.”
Once you know “how,” then “what” is connected to “why,” and change can happen. In the corporate world, a business can say “what” they’re going to do (expand, cut staff, launch a new product), and can explain “why” the decision has been made to do it (fulfill customer expectations, save cash resources, serve an unserved market niche), but the decision is more clearly understood when “why” is stated first, and connected with “how,” allowing the “what” to be realized. So many times, “what” and “why” are offered, but then the “how” becomes a process that they’ll “figure out” along the way. It’s the “plan” that’s important in order to share “how” the goals will be achieved that will get more people to buy into the change.
But now let’s see what happens when the “how” is completely understood, the “what” seems to be the same, and the “why” is not properly communicated.
I’m sure many of you have heard about or seen the math problem that was marked as wrong, and then went viral. “5 x 3 = 5 + 5+ 5” has caused a huge uproar about the way students are now being taught math, and coincidentally, the viral sharing through social media happened at the same time as the results of the test known as “The Nation’s Report Card” were released, and showed a drop in our nation’s math scores among students. To use a popular phrase, people put 2 and 2 together and became very upset with the answer.
While the answer is correct, the learning was missed, and a test or quiz is an assessment of the learning, not “getting the right answer.” This is a very confusing message in our world today, when brain testing programs “test” the ability to come up with answers to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems quickly; when learning enhancement programs teach youngsters to add 4 3-digit numbers mentally in seconds; and when “carrying” is no longer considered to be “the way it’s done,” and parents can no longer help their children when they have math homework.
“Why” is math now being taught this way? The reason proffered is “Common Core Standards.” And that’s when Common Core arguments start. The problem? Common Core is the incorrect answer. The correct answer lies in what children will need to know when they get to high school and into the workplace. Brett Berry provides an excellent answer to “why” at https://medium.com/i-math/why-5-x-3-5-5-5-was-marked-wrong-b34607a5b74c.
Once you know the real answer to “why,” then the change in “how” makes perfect sense. We learn something new, and makes us all realize we are life-long learners.