Five times “Why” towards getting to your purpose

In project management, there is a technique called the 5 Why’s. In a snapshot, it means that you start with a problem statement and then together with others, ask yourselves the reason behind it. You shape your question starting with Why and after answering the first time, you ask yourselves another Why question based on the first answer. The assumption behind this approach is that by asking up to 5 times “Why” you stand a much better chance at identifying the root cause of the problem, which will ultimately put you on the right path towards solving it. Moreover, answering the real “Why” is according to Simon Sinek (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en) the differentiating factor between great businesses and average ones. By focusing on it, you design products and services which address customer needs in an adequate and consistent manner, which in time inspire loyalty towards the brand. During my MBA, the “Why” was often times mentioned in our project planning, particularly for strategy or marketing projects. We all resonated with it strongly, even though for most of us starting with it was previously unfamiliar. Once the master ended, I recently found myself referencing the Why technique in a personal discussion as well. This made me see its potential beyond the business setting.

Problem statement: for the past few years, people around me often times mention the same struggle with managing their time. We want to do so much in such a short time that we find ourselves exhausted, and even burned out in the process. It is hard to say no, particularly when it comes to doing things that you love, or helping friends you hold dear, but I noticed it is even more difficult to say no when you want to make a difference in this world. My generation (usually labelled as millennials but the title really matters very little) has seen more people than ever passionate about social and environmental causes. When I say my generation I speak of you who at least at a certain point of your lives thought to become (social) entrepreneurs, traveled the world volunteering, or before applying for jobs, found yourselves looking first at company values. You are the ones who feel drawn to dedicate your time and effort with work that might not yield benefits for profit. While our society needs more of this selfless attitude, from my personal experience this usually makes you prone to get involved in more than one thing at the same time.

Let’s take this issue and analyze it using the 5 Why technique.

Why is this a problem?

Answer: Your desire to do good prevents you from standing aside when others need help and by this I do not mean on the spot interventions, but more time consuming activities such as consulting your friend’s startup, campaigning for local fundraiser or volunteering in the CSR activities of your employer.

Why should I stand aside when these activities do not take too much of my time?

Answer: Individually indeed they don’t, but try counting the number of hours you spent with them per month and you’ll see that collectively they do.

Why is this time less important since at the end of the day I am at least doing something?

Answer: Because every time you notice more problems that need addressing and feel your involvement was minimal.

Why would my feelings matter when others need me?

Answer: Because if you channel them towards the causes that interest you the most, and use your strengths to address them, you will be happier and more fulfilled with the results you achieve.

Why would my happiness make a difference for others?

Answer: Because in a world in dire need of solutions, being happy with your work and having your values and personal mission aligned to it, is key towards achieving long-term impact.

This is where I want to stop stop because I believe we all understand that focusing our energy towards your purpose delivers better outcomes. Who knows, this way you might end up building an organization that (at least partially) solves the global educational problem :)

If you resonate with what I am saying, I suggest answering your “Why” by looking into what makes you happier when you help others or work in general. Try tapping into your most secret purpose because once you’ll get there, it will never leave your thoughts and will direct your actions towards even more impactful activities. And when you’re in doubt whether to take on a new activity or not, go through the 5 Why process with a close friend. If the answers don’t come easy, just let it go because sometimes less means more.

For writing this post, I have many people to thank: close family and friends, loved one, my coaches and mentors. Throughout the years I was fortunate to continuously meet amazing people who supported me, gave me confidence and focus on the journey ahead, but also challenged me to become better. Asking yourself “Why you do the things you do” is not easy, but at least if you try once to through the exercise with the people close to you, my guess is you won’t stop until you get to the answer. Maybe it will even take you less than 5 times :)

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