The “Why” and the “How” Questions of Startups

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Organizations are conceived as a result of the process of asking the fundamental question of why they should ever exist. They are therefore conceived for serving a purpose. And this purpose is essentially defined by the fact that there should be a need that has to be satisfied in some way. This does not only pertain to organizations. Literally, everything exists in order to serve a purpose. And organizations are no exception to this. The first question that has to be answered for an organization to be conceived is therefore a “why” question.

As soon as a need has been identified and as a result a purpose has been defined, it is of utmost importance that how this need may be best satisfied be addressed too. It is therefore a “how” question that needs to take precedence at this stage. And it exactly this question that can make all the difference. For example, a successful strategy for serving a need, compared to an unsuccessful one, is simply the result of a better answer to such a question. It is therefore in this way that the “how” supports the “why”. This is why entrepreneurs need to conduct a reality check of their ideas. And reality check in this context is a well-scrutinized business plan, which deals with all possible “how” questions of how the need would be best satisfied.

Organizations are ultimately born when the commitment of the entrepreneur to his or her idea outgrows his or her perception of risk. And it is exactly at this stage where the “how” questions are such a useful complement to the “why” ones. Successful ideas are simply successful not because they identified a need. Instead, they are successful because they were worked out so that they did that in a better or even the best way. The “how” is therefore a blessing for the “why”, especially in a world where even the slightest nuances may play a critical role. This becomes of utmost importance for newly established resource-poor organizations. There is however a trap…

Despite the fact that the “how” is so crucially important for the “why”, too much of it or too early may kill an otherwise promising idea. The building of commitment to an idea by an entrepreneur is not instant. There is a process for this. Entrepreneurs speak too much and to everybody exactly for this reason. They just try to build commitment. During the early stages of this process however, ideas are very sensitive to criticism. And the “how” questions always seem to be much better grounded to logic when, at the same time, the “why” ones seem to directly come out of emotions and sentiment. Not surprisingly therefore, premature “how” questions have the power to kill even the most excellent ideas! The “how” that may be key to success can at the same time be the reason for the dropping of an idea even before it was even given a single chance to be seriously considered.

The “why” and the “how” questions can definitely lead to success provided that they are asked with the right sequence and at the right time. No idea can have a chance to even be born as an answer to a “how” question. There has to be an answer to a “why” question first. And at this stage no “how” questions need to be asked. However, even when the time for the “how” questions has finally come, it is important that they be stated so that to support the “why” and not the “why not”. And it is only at the latest stage when the hard “how” questions need to be posed and not before. For, it is only as soon as the idea has been fully developed that the time has come for the necessary reality testing. As soon as this has been done, if the commitment of the new entrepreneur is still higher than his or her perception of risk the new organization can be born with all the odds on its side.