A Critical Doer generates motion from “why” more than “what”
A few months back I penned a series of posts on active listening. One of them dealt with empathy and the importance of “why” more so than “what.” Simone Ahuja recently published an incredible story in the Harvard Business Review of a Critical Doer named Lane Desborough that tells a poignant story of what a “why” driven father will do for his son.
Ahuja’s story talks about how Lane was working in the energy enterprise at General Electric when his son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. During the struggles and pain of constantly monitoring his son’s blood sugar levels both day and night, Lane decided he would devote himself to finding solutions for both parents and kids so he left GE to work with a medical device company. He continued to learn and expand his network of likeminded doers and eventually started a company that manufactures diabetes solutions that use information technology for more effective monitoring and control. His new products represent a significant leap forward in quality of life and quality of care for patients and caregivers.
Lane’s story is a great one that shows the connection of mind to feet using empathy to establish “why” for internal and external communication. Like any father, Lane wanted his son to live life like any other kid and not let diabetes be the controlling factor that defines their life as a family.
In discovering “why” through empathy, we start the crucial process of separating the real problem from the environmental factors surrounding the problem. Lane didn’t fall into the trap of letting the environment define the limits of possibility. He could have easily yielded to the risk of changing careers, lack of established solutions, fear of failure, low numbers of organizations working the problem…but he didn’t. He accepted the complexities of the environment and simply dealt with them…and along the way built a company that’s helping families deal much more effectively with diabetes.
Ahuja’s point and your challenge is that “why” driven innovators are a precious resource no organization can afford to lose. Lane came and went from a number of companies who could have retained his remarkable talent and profited from his work. Because the companies he worked for were focused on “what” rather than “why” they missed an opportunity in the near term and the long term as Lane will certainly be a “why” driven innovator for a long time (and a profitable one at that).
If you’re not making it your business to look at situations with empathy to clearly understand “why”, competitors that do will consistently defeat you with more relevant products and recruitment/retention of top-shelf talent. Make it your business to build your business on “why” driven talent and products…you’ll be rewarded in the bottom line and also on a personal level through creating opportunities that make life better for all of us. It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!
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