What for?

It has become a habit of mine to always ask the question: “What for?” To think about it, this should be the recurrent question. Is it the essence of purpose to any action we undertake?

During my numerous seminars, I used to run, not only will I ask the participants to work out the purpose of their attendance, I would also suggest that they ask themselves sucessively the same question “what for”for a couple of rounds to the answers they may work out. I want them to reach the “meta” purpose of their purpose. If you prefer, the ultimate purpose.

I much prefer “what for” to “why”. “Why” could deviate the answer to philosophical thinking whilst “what for” would attempt to discover the ultimate purpose.

Entrepreneurs are too often head down in the action of performing whatever they are doing, without having a clear vision of the purpose of their actions. An external person, usually a consultant, would ask: “What is your mission?” or “do you have a mission statement?” A hazy, blurred answer would often be given. If somebody would ask you “what for, and why are you going to Port Louis”.What will your counterpart think if he got a hazy, blurred answer? Either you do not want to give a straight answer or you do not know what you are doing.I would ask you to try this question to your colleagues or friends: “What for, or why do you work?”

Should you have a well thought of and defined & specific purpose, I am of opinion that you stand a much better chance of achieving the purpose. “Elementaire”, dirait Watson.” Stephen Covey always likes to rightly say: “Common sense is not always common practice”.

I came across the book: Purpose: The starting point of great companies by Nikos Mourkogiannis, which I must admit I have not yet read. The extract of the book , of which you may have a copy is well to the point I am driving at. Purpose!

Anybody sensible would always have a purpose for any action. As common sense is not always common practice, you would be surprised how often we do things without a definite and specific purpose. Is it out of laziness or unconscious behaviour? Or we are more concerned with the “how” of the things we do instead of the “why” and “what for”. Purpose driven people are more thinkers than doers. To correct this state of things, and to increase our thinking skills, I propose that we train ourselves in perceptual positionning.


#1 joseph on 10.15.06 at 2:12 pm

It is valuable at this point to make the distinction between the question ‘why’ and the question ‘what for’. One of the features of a well formed outcome is that it includes consideration of the result the user wants it to produce for them; that is the purpose, the broader perspective, the over view of the desired state, the ‘what is this for – what does it do for you’ aspect. To ask ‘why’ someone wants something will produce a completely different class of answer. It invites justification. The answer often starts with ‘because…’ and continues on from there.

The question ‘why’ directs the listener’s attention backwards in time, to what has already taken place. In the context of a desired result in the future, backward directed attention has limited use. What is wanted is forward directed attention towards the desired future; attention placed on how the user can influence that future toward meeting their own specification. To find the intended purpose of a course of action, one needs to ask what the action is for. These answers are more likely to elicit responses beginning with phrases like ‘to make…’ or ‘to provide…’ or ‘to do…’. They contain an element of action, of purpose, of forward momentum and direction. Intent is presupposed, and information is brought into the system to facilitate action.

#2 joseph on 10.22.06 at 2:54 pm

Following the blog,I had a fruitful talk with my best friend Roger a regular reader. We had fun and enlightment discussing on “WHY” which seems to be directed towards the past and “What for” which takes you to the future.. Roger also is a user of what for as it is practical, concrete and result oriented…Thanks Roger

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