Meat and Potatoes: the “what” and the “why” of things

Although I joined this class a day late, I already feel like I will take a lot away from this semester. Already hearing other people’s opinions and insights has intrigued me. The style of the course is very different to any I have taken before and the uniqueness is enjoyable. After this first week we learned about fueling a company through its why.

The difference between what and why isn’t particularly different than the meanings behind the question words we all learned in 1st grade; however, it seems as though the significance behind the words filtered out of our conscious mind as a million other objectives and worries filed in. Moving into the business world many companies provide their customers with the “what” of a product, a short description detailing the amazing and new qualities of their product. This is as surface level as asking someone how they are and expecting the same “Good. How are you?” every time. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the product that you could not find online or from a review by someone outside of the company. On the contrary the “why” tells you’re the reason the product was founded, the problem the product attempts to solve, a hole in an industry that needs to be plugged. The why is the significance behind the product not just what’s on the outside or surface level. A company is more successful leading with their “why” rather than their “what” because it shows their potential customers, investors, and competitors that they care about more than just making a profit. They are in the business for some other reason than business itself. In a world when just about anyone can create just about any product they want to make a profit, having a why can differentiate a company, and attract loyal, interested and passionate customers.

The main difference between a “what” and a “why” is that one constitutes the potatoes and the other constitutes the meat. The description, the what, is undoubtedly a part of the meal, but it doesn’t constitute a well-rounded meal, or even a whole meal by itself. It’s the bare bones of a product. It may satisfy you for a little bit, maybe even pull you in one or two times, but the moment a better meal comes around you’re going to jump ship. On the other hand, the why represents the protein, the substance, of a meal. You could be content and have a full belly with just the meat; it’s what sustains you after you eat. The why carries the important information and can sustain a product by creating a customer base that is attracted by the purpose and the reason rather than just the product’s surface level attributes. However, a meal is not really complete with just the meat or the potatoes. The “why,” “what,” and “how” work best when used in conjunction. Beginning with the “why” and ending with the “what” creates a well-rounded meal that can sustain both you and the product.

A company who achieves it’s why in day to day operations is Southwest Airlines. Knowing that they live out their why in the customer service and flying experiences they lend to people, I looked up their mission statement for this post to compare their actions to their words. Part of their “why” is providing customers with good customer service. But then they add on that they hope to do so with a “sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit.” I think they present the perfect marriage between their “what” and their “why”. Before Southwest, I had always heard of complaints and delays in relation to flying. Then in the past few years it has become a revolution in which Southwest actually lives up to its promises. After hearing all the benefits and great experiences others were having, I only recently began traveling on Southwest and truly found their mission statement to hold true. To me this is a less obvious example since the company isn’t clothing the impoverished or giving people glasses, but the “why” but still shines through exceptionally well because the company itself is going above and beyond getting people to their destinations. They do so more cheaply, friendlier, and faster than any other airline. That sounds like meat and potatoes to me.

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