54/300: Why? Why? Why?

I’ve been working as a digital strategist for a few years now. It’s work I like. It’s work I’m naturally inclined to do well. At least I think it is. I think I do a pretty good job. Sometimes, I’ll tell people what I do and they look at me funny. Isn’t digital media just about cat videos and page views?

Fair enough. But not accurate. I like to think that all strategy – digital, analog, business, personal or otherwise – is about making rational decisions based upon a keen understanding of motivation and desired outcome. And it doesn’t have to be hard. So often strategy development is about asking one question over and over until you arrive at a satisfying and fruitful conclusion. Being a strategist is a lot like being a three year-old. You just keep asking: why?

Let’s say someone tells you they want to run a marathon. They’ve wanted to run a marathon for a long time but have had trouble getting off the couch. Ask them: why?

Why do you want to run a marathon?

Because I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Why do you want to feel like you want to achieve something?

Because I don’t feel like I accomplish a whole lot.

Why don’t you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot?

Because no one recognizes me for the work I do every day and I feel like I’m not doing important things. 

Okay, if that’s the case, why haven’t you been able to get started?

Because I’m tired all the time.

Why are you tired all the time?

Because I don’t sleep enough. 

Why don’t you sleep enough?

Because I stay up late worrying about being successful.

That’s six ‘whys’ and now you can build a strategy that looks like something like this: Design a daily training routine that rewards small activities. Go to bed before 10 pm, get a reward. Follow your training program every day and get a reward – a social media high five, a congratulatory e-mail from a person who has volunteered to act as a coach. Just asking why takes the massive accomplishment of running a marathon and breaks it down into needs – recognition – and motivation – to relieve stress and not feel so alone – and informs tactics – celebrating small successes that will result in preparing for a marathon.

It doesn’t matter if you’re setting up a website for a Fortune 100 or figuring out how to get out of debt. Asking at least three whys instead a whole bunch of whats, whens, wheres and hows will often reveal opportunity from seemingly unrelated motivations.

I like the Why? Why? Why? model. I find myself applying it to everything from cutting down on e-mail to strengthening my faith. It works. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. And, since I know it can be hard to do it yourself, if you need help reach out to me.

There’s almost nothing that’s impossible. But don’t confuse activity for progress. Don’t mistake minimizing with efficiency. Don’t mistake tactics for strategy. Spend time getting your strategy right and the execution becomes easier, more effective and, often, fun.

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