Include the why

whyI recently stumbled upon an interesting speech from 1984 by Charlie Munger of Bershire Hathaway fame. Charlie is Warren Buffet’s right-hand-man, and a straight talking genius in his own right. It’s a fairly long speech and Charlie has a few very interesting things to say, but one particular section on ‘explaining the why’ really struck home.
Here’s a brief quote:

….if you always tell people why, they’ll understand it better, they’ll consider it more important, and they’ll be more likely to comply. Even if they don’t understand your reason, they’ll be more likely to comply.
So there’s an iron rule that just as you want to start getting worldly wisdom by asking why, why, why, in communicating with other people about everything, you want to include why, why, why. Even if it’s obvious, it’s wise to stick in the why.

The ‘why’ is notably absent from most conversations in our high-tech sphere. I’ve wasted countless hours interpreting solutions to ill-defined or undefined problems. I’m guilty of writing many ‘why-less’ documents and emails also. Upon reflection, I can recognise the folly of not explaining the problem at hand before launching into the solution.
When I drop the reasoning and background and go straight for the solution, I find that I trigger much frustrating communication, organisational friction and ultimately lost time.
Perhaps I feel I’m being efficient by banging out a quick email which omits the ‘why’, but it’s certainly not effective. Perhaps I fall into the trap of assuming everyone is on the same page and the ‘why’ should be self-evident.
I’m with Charlie on this one, I think we could all provide more ‘whys’ in our email, network designs, change control documents, etc. I’m going to try and add more ‘why’ to my communications over the coming weeks with the goal of reducing friction and improving the effectiveness of my communication.
What do you think?






6 responses to “Include the why”

  1. muddassir Avatar

    absolutely John! this is one the things which I have learned over the past year or so. the only difference sometimes between a good and great engineer is their ability to know the ‘why’ behind a technology or a design and knowing of that why plays a key role when demonstrating design or troubleshooting a problem.
    looking forward to the ‘why’ series of technical articles 😉

    1. John Harrington Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Muddassir, it’s is definitely a marker trait of good engineers.
      I’ll probably just work this theme into my work communications for now, rather than promising a ‘why’ series of articles 😉

  2. Daniel Dib Avatar

    Fully agree and Russ White just wrote about this as well:

    1. John Harrington Avatar

      Thanks for sharing the link Daniel, it’s a great article by Russ.

  3. Jerry Avatar

    Why is the most important question in learning.
    Children show us every day with their WHY this and WHY that.
    I pity people who do not make full use of the word, because it is very difficult to become great in any subject unless you constantly use the WHY to yourself and anyone who can answer the WHY

    1. John Harrington Avatar

      Too true. Thanks for the comment Jerry.

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