The Importance of How

Perhaps my favourite How story is this fable from Aesop…

The North Wind and the Sun were arguing which was the stronger, when a traveller passed by in a heavy cloak. To settle the argument, they agreed that whoever succeeded in making the traveller take off his cloak would be considered the stronger. The North Wind blew as hard as it could but, the harder it blew, the closer the traveller drew his cloak around him. When the North Wind finally gave up, the Sun gently shone on the traveller, who almost immediately removed his cloak.

Here is another one of my favourite How stories…

During an interview, a CEO told me about a time when he had to close an entire company, which would make more than 1000 people redundant. Instead of shifting this responsibility, the CEO got on a plane and visited the company himself. Once there, he gathered the workforce together and told them, face-to-face and in person, what was happening (to them) and why. Among other things, their response was to outstrip previous levels of performance every month until the company closed.

This delicate and sensitive handling of a situation where livelihoods and careers were at stake made all the difference, and is all about How.

Had this CEO blown through the closure of the company like the North Wind, the outcome would have been very different indeed, as would the experience for everyone involved, including the CEO himself.

In stories like the two above, a great deal of importance rests on How things are done. In these examples, what took place under the subject heading of ‘How‘ could even be seen as the significant factor, the protagonist, the transformative agent, call it what you will.

There also appears to be a good deal of latitude here too, i.e. How we do something offers plenty of room for individuality and self-expression to shine. All in all, How seems like quite an interesting place to explore.

11891154964_2e6909b30c_oI’ve no idea How she did this!
Visit Hannah Sheffield’s beautiful Photostream on Flickr to see more of her amazing work.
[My thanks to Hannah for allowing the use of this image, under cc license]

Further Explorations on How

[Note: As with any exploration (or discovery process) there is no reason to engage or take another step unless you are curious to do so. That said, if you find yourself teetering on the edge of curiosity, I’m encouraging you to give an important subject like this (i.e. the study of your career experience) a little more time]

1. Your Experience
You will have your own How answers/experiences and they will be revealing. How we go about a particular task or achieve a set goal can be easy to overlook but the stories we can find here are usually interesting, some are truly engaging.

Think again about your significant career experiences and achievements, although this time with a little more focus on How you get (or got) things done (e.g. What did you do? Who did you do it with? Where did the breakthrough moments occur?)

2. Going Beyond What and Why
We can find it easier to explain Why something needs to be done and, if that why is compelling to us, the exposition usually stops there. As a rule, we are also on more familiar ground when it comes to analysing What happened and what we did in our work/career (e.g. assignment/project timelines, outcomes, results, and so on)

How things gets done can be trickier to quantify. Elements of How can also be invisible to the eye because they are so natural to us, we barely notice the application. Exploring How might require a little more attention but the returns (e.g. discoveries, stories, self-efficacy, career-developing awareness) often make the extra effort worthwhile

3. Free, Inclusive and Inexhaustible
How is another great source of empirical data. How is also remarkably democratic because we all have our own way of doing things, even if the variations from person-to-person are small. No one else is in a better place than each of us to take ownership of how we choose to approach tasks, our work and our career.

How can be thought of as intellectual property anyone can apply (and study) as they see fit. No other person and no organisation, regardless of power, size and importance, can (fully) instruct how you do something. Of course there is advice and there are guidelines but, like the CEO in the story above, there is plenty of room for individuals to set the tone

4. How and the Interview
How is a valuable source of information for interviewers and interviewees alike. People who interview well tend to talk freely and openly about the How aspects of their experience/achievement. How allows interviewees to explain what they do with nuance, personality and differentiation. In short, How makes you memorable.

In a similar way, if you are the interviewer, there is so much to be gained by asking How something was achieved. Learning more about the different ways each person sets up their day, goes about their to-do list and makes progress against big strategic aims makes being an interviewer anything but a chore

5. How in Groups and Organisations
The study of How things are done can highlight function and dysfunction in culture. How is also a great source when it comes to understanding what people, teams and organisations do well and where change may (or may not) be beneficial.

How makes a lasting impression, and a huge difference to the way people think/feel about their contact with any individual, group or organisation. How a team operates is a great way to explore and understand what is important to an organisation and its people, especially where there are conflicts between formal and informal behaviour (e.g. differences in what is said versus what is done)

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Our individual awareness of How can be learned (and learned from) without barriers or exceptions. How is where we get to show rather than tell when it comes to our motivations, our values, talents and our goals. Our unique How is another way we express ourselves whether we know it or not.

Incomplete as it is, I hope this brief exploration of How feels empowering to you. The way we approach our work/career gives us a great many options, many of which can be found in and around our understanding of How.

What I find most empowering of all is the idea that How is our fingerprint, and we leave our prints noticeably. How is the way each of us choose to do whatever it is that we do – and in that there will always be difference, and opportunity.

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