Start With Why

A friend pitched me on this book. The book isn’t as good as the ideas, but the ideas are fascinating. It’s good brainfood if you can detach message from messenger. More like message from handwriting, because Sinek just seems like a better talker than writer.

The basic premise, start with why you’re doing things, appeals to me. I’m very good at the how and what, but those whys are difficult. So the seeds dropped on fertile mind-soil. What’s more, having a distinct why makes doing things easier. Frankl talked about this, and that book affected me deeply. Frankl wasn’t very pragmatic, Sinek was, so it came across as a useful harmony.

Whys can either be so broad as to be meaningless, so narrow as to be meaningless, and the modicum in between is both useful and frustrating. Suppose Alice’s objective is ‘Make the world a better place.’ That’s the former. She can work in a soup kitchen, make a ton of money and support a soup kitchen, or go buy and eat soup. Soup makes her world a better place, she’s in the world, therefore Alice eating soup makes the world a better place. Yay! That’s the lowest positive increment.

Conversely, if Zara decides she’s going to give a can of soup to a charity, and then congratulate herself for accomplishing her life goal, she’s also done something positive. The soup got donated. Yay! Lowest positive increment.

The stuff in the middle is the kicker.

With apologies to the Moody Blues, I’ll give a couple thoughts I cannot defend. The way to do great things is do small things that lead in the direction of greatness. 90% of the time you focus on the small things, 5% you focus on the goal, and 5% you focus on who you are. Nothing works without the rest, but that’s a decent proportion. You can probably see why I liked and disagreed with Start With Why if you’ve read it.

Starting from there, one needs a concrete, action-verb why. It should point in the direction of making the world a better place, but should be a distinct thing. Some people will agree, some won’t, and water will remain wet. What I’m working on right now with the C-IED/C-LM robots and the books is ‘Take some harm out of the world.’

If I remove a few, that’s less landmines. Landmines are bad, so fewer of them is less negatives. I think there is such a thing as positive evil, evil existing as something not just the absence of good, and landmines are bad. Reducing the landmine counts reduces the bad.

In the books, I often think about people coming to bad circumstances or bad situations, and not fixing things but reducing the harm. I struggle with this notion: how do you make things less bad? And yet there’s meaning in there.

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