Friday, 10 October 2014

The Why

People don't buy what you do or how you do it. They buy why you do it.

Why do you write?

I've been asked that question more than once over the years. I've even answered a couple of times with “I don't know” and an indifferent shrug. I answered that way a long time ago when I hadn't checked my bio-hard-drive to see what the software was up to. (I probably did know and the answer may have felt a bit embarrassing at the time.) In recent years, the answer has been somewhat more coherent; I write because that is how I express myself best.

Close... and not quite.

I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen. It has never been published because it is truly a piece of one-copy-never-to-be-seen-again-everlasting crap... even though there is a good idea or two in there. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, right? But the exercise was good. I had already been writing poetry and short stories so the longer version of a story was more or less a natural progression.

The “why” of the exercise at that time was “to save my life”. Again, close and not quite right.

It turns out the most successful companies already know the correct answers to the questions “why”, “how” and “what”... and which is more important. Take the example of Apple. When Steve Jobs was alive, it was pretty clear their mission statement had something to do with pushing boundaries, being hip and improving peoples lives. That is the “why”. The “how” was to build the most advanced products possible with current technology and to keep on the leading edge. The “what” was that they happened to build computers. They could have built anything and the why would not have changed. When cell phones and MP3 players came along, it didn't matter that the company had focused on computers before then. People lined up for hours to get the first iPhone and iPod because they felt connected to the “why” that Apple was offering. Apple could have been building toasters and the why would not change.

Most companies do the opposite. “Here is what we have and here is how we build it or provide the service. Want to buy one?” Err... no.

The neocortex (the new part of the brain) corresponds with rational thought (which includes mathematics and language) and also corresponds with the “what” part of decision making. Why is this important? People can hear a litany of facts and figures and even admit the product is beautiful or functional... and they won't buy because it doesn't feel right. You may be bang on in your description of whatever it is you have to offer. You may know your product inside out and backward... and still not get the sale. In short, the customer hasn't connected with the feeling of owning what you're selling.

The limbic brain centres on the other hand, are the older and more primal parts of the brain. They're what make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you look down a dark alley and think, Umm... Yeah... I don't think so. The limbic brain centres do not understand language or reasoning. They understand feeling. They respond to why and how questions (mostly why). This area of the brain is responsible for all final decision making. It is also the part of the brain that has been making the decisions for our survival by “gut feel” for the entire existence of our species.

You will not buy what someone is selling until you feel right about the decision, no matter the volume of data and convincing argument.

It's also why we need to "agree to disagree" from time to time.

This goes for hiring practices as well. Find people who believe what you believe. The best qualified may not be "the best qualified". Hire qualified people who believe what you believe. Orville and Wilbur Wright had everything going against them. They had no money. They had no advanced education between themselves or amongst the team they had assembled. Yet they were still the first to create a flying machine despite having competition from various others who had the funding and the education. How?

Everyone on the team was on the same page... and the Wright brothers were in this thing to change the world. Those who worked with them believed the same as the brothers. Their main competition was in it for the fame and glory and the people working for them were inventing for the same fame and glory for themselves.

Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech... not an “I have an Idea” speech. Sell what you feel... the why. That's why two hundred fifty thousand people showed up to see him speak.

Which sort of brings me back to why I write.

As I alluded to previously, in the early days I had no idea why I wrote. I just wrote because it felt right. I assumed it was for my own enjoyment and finding a creative outlet. In my late twenties and early thirties, I was certain I wrote because I needed an escape. What I was escaping I'm not sure. Some form of internal boogie man I suppose. Either that or some form of external influence compelled me to find a dark place and run my fingers incessantly over a keyboard. Later still, I made the leap to “I write to get my feelings out”. There are 15 or 20 personal journals hanging around here somewhere with enough thoughts to fill a few books... fiction or otherwise. (Those journals will remain closed until I die and no longer care who reads them or where they are shared... just sayin'.)

The how of writing for me is by using anecdotes, stories (either fiction or non-fiction), references to people who can say things better than I and all the while weaving lessons I've learned onto the page. I don't think we do anything that doesn't have some learning involved... even typing on a keyboard. The what of writing in my world is blogs and social network pages and novels. That is the manner I have chosen to put pieces of me out to the world.

In no way is this the only means of communication I (or anyone else) use, yet from my perspective, it is where I allow myself to be most vulnerable. Well... that and speaking in front of a group of strangers... but that's another story.

While most of those reasons for writing outlined above were more or less true at the time, the real reason I have always written is to connect; to share bits and pieces of me as I figure out what those bits and pieces are and what they mean. I write to share my learning in life, to reveal me piece by piece, to make people laugh or cry or say “hmmm”, to mark down my journey on a path some may wish to walk along while others may not and, yes, sometimes it is simply to escape the boogie man... no matter how bad a dancer he is.

You see, I have a dream too; a vision of what the world could become and how I fit into it. For me, that dream is the why.