Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Shifting Our Focus from What to How and Why


Certain ways of categorizing makes sense. If you are picking out the right decor and design for your room, and looking at some mini pumpkins for your centerpiece, the distinction of edible vs. inedible is not as relevant as their shapes and hue. A coin can be categorized by its monetary value it represents, or by its chemical composition, by its color, size, design, etc.

When it comes to people, especially in the U.S., our profession defines us. Even in a non-professional setting, people want to know who you work for, or what industry you are in. It makes sense, because we spend most of our waking hours engaged in our industry. If you are a nurse, and you meet someone else at a party who is in the medical profession, you might feel more comfortable knowing you have some common grounds you share without having exchanged any other information.

Having worn many hats and straddled several industries, I prefer to identify myself and others with “how” and “why” than the “what. I taught, and I respect the profession of teaching, but I am no longer in the field of education so the “what” no longer applies though they “why” (providing opportunities to grow others) and “how” I taught continues to affect my management style.

Who is to say that a burnt out teacher who clocks in and await the final bell to ring is more engaged with our youth to provide opportunities for the future than a trades person who designed a simple woodshop kit kids can use to learn mathematical concepts?

Of course, when you are looking to get some legal work done, first identifying someone as an attorney is important. But even then, I am interested in how they engage with their clients: are they the type to turn around the work very quickly on their own or do they want to involve you in the process so you can learn why they did what they did; or are they life-long learners, curious in learning more about your business and trends beyond the law that affects the way the law is applied or are they best at shaping your business into a peg that fits the holes the law is crafted for?

We come to quick judgements when we hear titles, which is both why it’s helpful and harmful. It’s harmful when the judgement goes beyond categorizing their profession: doctors…must be wealthy, artists…absent minded with poor understanding of commerce, and somehow artists are creative and doctors, not.

Yet I know plenty of artists with sharp sense of business, and doctors who have created innovative devices.

The adjectives do not have to be exclusively coupled with the domain.

I have yet to figure out how to get the “how and why” to come across when stating the “what” (which is what everyone is looking for in a 15 second introduction), and to elicit the “how and why” when others are used to categorizing themselves predominantly as “what”. In the meantime, I am satisfied identifying that our society tends to focus on the “what”, and therefore, people are comfortable categorizing by the “what”, and for me to craft my introduction backwards from “how and why” to the “what,” and to remember to get to know other people through the “how and why”.

Photo: New York High Line…it’s a decommissioned railroad track made into elevated park spaces (what), but with so much more history that serves the community and the tourists alike (how and why)


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This entry was posted on October 17, 2015 by in Identity and tagged , , , , , .
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