Knowledge industry, particularly software, is full of people who possess “know-how” – knowledge of how to get something done. Give them a task, and they will be able to apply their technical skills (read ‘know-how’) to accomplish it.
A lot of people possess a very sound “know-what” – knowledge of facts, figures and methods. Give them a topic and it is likely that they know the theory and facts. “Know-how” shines with “Know-what”.
Sales and marketing folks focus on “know-who” – people they know, have met and have a business relationship with.
There is a proliferation of know-how-what-who people, however, what we need more in businesses today is “know-why” people – those who possess knowledge of the purpose of doing something, insight into the meaning of work.
In lean terms, doing everything else without knowing the purpose and meaning is a “waste” – because everything that is done without understanding the purpose is a cost.
Understanding the purpose, context and meaning requires something more than simple “explicit knowledge”. It requires curiosity, implicit insight, ability to connect the dots, question our work, think about system and understand the invisible currents.
Purpose is powerful tool to keep people aligned, establish a vision (for team and organization), inspire team members and guide large scale strategic changes.
“Know-why” is at the core of excellence and is a pillar on which improvements are (and should be) done.
Given business priorities and rate of change, it is very easy to get carried away by tactical tasks, speed and progress. Corporate culture rewards speed, action and progress. But if you are running fast in the wrong direction, you are prone to accidents.
To avoid this, it is crucial that we know why we are doing what we are doing. Is it adding value? What problems are we solving? Is it really worth it? Why?
So, once in a while, it helps to slow down. Step back. Question our work, see the broader picture and flex our “know why” muscle.
“Know-why” empowers how, what and who. We surely need people who know how and what to do – but we need more and more people/leaders who combine what and how with a powerful why.
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Join in the conversation: How can you instil a strong sense of “know-why” in your organization/team/self? Is there a dearth of “know-why” in business today? What can we do about it? Let your ideas flow in comments below.