What, How, Why?


“There is one quality more important than “know-how” and we cannot accuse the United States of any undue amount of it.  This is “know-what” by which we determine not only how to accomplish our purposes, but what our purposes are to be.” – Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, 1954

I agree with Norbert Wiener, the founder of the interdisciplinary field of Cybernetics, although I’ve also thought that ‘know-why’ is also important category. I believe that for every major goal, project, or endeavor in one’s life, it is critical to understand three things:

1. ‘What To’ Do: If human lives were 10,000 years long, we could do anything AND everything. Alas, our time is short and skillful selection becomes a crucial part of a productive life. Every major activity, such as going to College or attending Medical School requires intense resources such as money, effort, and most importantly, time. Time, once spent, is forever lost. Due to our of finite lifespans, it is important to choose only worthy goals and projects, associate with the best people, pick the ideal career for our level of ambition and talents, etc.

Let us consider an example. Dr. John Smith decides to become a millionaire within the next seven years, before he turns 50. This is the ‘What To’ he has selected.

2.’How To’ Do: There are several ways to accomplish things. First, you could engage in ‘trial and error’ learning of a process and work at it for months or years until you learn everything. This is a hard path, but ironically, the one most people choose. Second, you could learn a proven methodology and implement it. In the kitchen, I often use a proven recipe to make something from scratch as I am not a trained chef. In the 21st century, there are blueprints for just about everything a person might desire to do.

Dr. John Smith desires to have seven figures in seven years. Instead of trying to invent new ways of making money, he invests a little capital into learning real estate investing and marketing systems to build his own medical practice. This ‘How To’ information lays out ‘step by step’ how he can increase his profits, income, and investments to reach this level of net worth.

3.’Why To’ Do: This is the most important. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

For our example, Dr. John Smith wants to provide his family with a financial fortress to weather any storm. This is his ‘Why To.’

Even when 10 people have the same ‘What To’ goal and identical ‘How To’ information, they will each often have a unique ‘Why To’ reason for putting forth the effort.

It is easiest to accomplish any major goal if you know the why first.

What is your big ‘Why To’?