My daughter recently turned 3.
“Time to put your shoes on … why?”
“Did you sleep well … why?”
“It’s time to go, do you need a wee … why?”
“Look over there can you see that horse in the field .. why?”
Why? Why? Why? A stuck record of curiosity. A never-ending white noise of provocation.
The ‘why’ game is great, you can literally keep asking the question after every answer. Why?
Why has the ability to cajole, entertain and enlighten, often at the same time. Like leaping headfirst into a Pandora’s box of never ending mind melt. It can stop us in our tracks and reframe everything. It can make us zoom out and go, oh yeah hang on a minute why?
“Would you like a glass of water”
“Because we need to drink”
“Because that’s how our bodies work”
“Well water is essential without it we’d die”
“Why do we die?”
“Errr … Good then….errr …. Go and ask mummy … “
At that point I usually fill up a glass of water and give it to her complete with the instruction ‘drink this’.
A lot of times she is probably doing this because she is aware it can annoy me. Or maybe she is genuinely being curious. Either way the infinite why leads to existential analysis. It peels away the fabric of reality to the very core of what it means to be a human. It explodes the potential of everything and enables us to think about purpose.
And that got me thinking. How often do we ask Why about our organisations, about the purpose of our organisations, about our purpose within our organisations, the value we are adding. For those of you that haven’t seen it Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” talk frames this perfectly.
At Impact’s amazing flagship event Learnfest this year we had the pleasure of hosting Richard Leider whose keynote speech was about the power of purpose. His brilliant summation is that people who feel like they have a sense of purpose, who feel that their lives matter, who have a reason to get up in the morning are healthier, happier and live longer. Furthermore, he suggests that purpose is a verb, in other words we need to use it, like a muscle it needs to be exercised, it needs to be acted upon.
Just like my daughter we need to be curious, we need to seek out answers, we need to be hungry for knowledge, we need to ask more questions. Michael ‘Vsauce’ Stevens’ brilliant Ted talk about questions sums this up perfectly, that the action of asking why enables us to become wise.
I think this is even more important in this day and age. We live in a so called ‘post truth’ ‘alternative fact’ era, our prominent politicians have suggested people are fed up with experts. Through digitalisation, data is now ‘big’ and we consume this online through systematically filtered algorithms that are literally designed to keep us in a comfortable echo chamber that is safe and perpetuates what we already know.
Spend a moment contemplating what you used to know that you’ve now forgotten – somewhere in the recess of your brain it is still lurking. Lying amongst some synapses waiting to be ignited through thoughts, hopes and dreams.
Spend a moment thinking about what you still have the possibility to know.
Spend a moment thinking about the purpose of your organisation and it’s propensity to add value to the world. Spend a moment not asking questions about what a person does but why they do it.
Spend a moment thinking about why your job matters.
Pause for a moment and contemplate these things.
Consider your purpose, dream big and dream of the potential future. A future that is shaped, purposefully by you and your organisation. A future that is yours to invent and curate. A future where we look forward with hope, and curiosity. A future filled with action and not inertia and resignation. Why?
Well as John F. Kennedy so eloquently put it:
“...the problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men [people] who can dream of things that never were.”
Because perhaps that is humanity’s purpose – “to dream of things that never were.”
Dominic Fitch is Head of Creative Change at Impact.