Clarifying Your Why Is an Often Missed Step in Preferred Future Thinking

With over 36 million views (as of today), you’ve almost certainly seen Simon Sinek’s groundbreaking TED Talk, Start with Why. Maybe you’ve even read the book.

But…have you done the hard work of identifying and clarifying the why that drives your organization?

If not, maybe it’s time to do that. After all, it’s an often missed step in preferred future thinking.

When I describe the journey from where you are now (your present) to where you dream of arriving organizationally (your preferred future), I often say that without vivid clarity about where you’d like to go, you will only rarely arrive in the right place.

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

So, how do you go about clarifying your why?

Three Steps and Focused Discovery

The essence of a why discovery exercise can be described as a three step process:

Gather the important organizational stories and share them.

In an organizational sense, the founder’s stories about the difference-making events in their life are essential, but it will also be important to mine for the stories of additional voices (the ideal number might be 20-30, depending on the size of the organization) who share “two characteristics: zeal for their jobs and reasonable long tenure in the company (p. 102).”

In a workshop sense, this might be accomplished by having a set of conversations:

Conversation #1: Ask for specific stories of when participants have felt “most proud to work for this organization.”

Conversation #2: Ask the participants to reflect on the stories they shared, recalling the specific contribution your organization made to the lives of others.

Conversation #3: Ask participants to identify what your organization’s contribution enables others to do or be.

Identify important themes.

Once you’ve facilitated the three conversations, carefully sift for themes that emerge and resonate. As you identify themes, it’s common for one or two to stand out as being more important to the larger number of contributors.

These themes can become “the foundation of your Why statement.”

Draft and refine a why statement.

Once you’ve identified the most important one or two themes, you can begin to assemble your Why statement (at least the first attempt). The authors of Find Your Why say that “you should try to make yours:

  • simple and clear
  • actionable
  • focused on the effect you’ll have on others
  • expressed in the affirmative” (i.e., not what you aren’t or don’t do)

(from Find Your Why, p. 35)

The objective is to end up with a simple statement in this format:

To ______ (your contribution to the lives of others) so that ________(the impact of your contribution)

Simon Sinek’s Why statement is a good example. “To inspire people to do things that inspire them so that, together, we can change our world.”

Summary: Although you’d definitely benefit from thoroughly digesting Find Your Why, you should be able to see how discovering your organizational Why would help shape and clarify your preferred future. In fact, once you’ve identified your Why you might actually need to rethink some of what you’ve assumed your preferred future should be.

Further Reading:

“Find Your Why” is an essential addition to the toolbox

Diagnosing Today

Arriving at Your Preferred Future: How to Develop Milestones

Arriving at Your Preferred Future

Image by Steve Rhodes

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