Still starting with the why

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by wadem

“Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why.” Simon Sinek

As I am seeing a growing demand for schools to learn how to use social media tools in classrooms with students, staff, and parents, I have continuously tried to focus on this Simon Sinek video (which I have mentioned several times in this blog).  In the Ted Talk, Sinek continuously says the same phrase over and over again:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Although this can be taken as a very “business-driven” phrase, there is definitely a connection to the work that we are doing within our schools and especially with our students, staff, and stakeholders.  I have this huge belief that people want to be inspired and want purpose in their lives, they don’t want to just “show up” and do the work.

With that being said, I have seen the importance of defining the “why” in my own experience.  Often I have been asked to work with staff to either give a talk, and to follow up by doing a workshop on how to help educators get connected.  Sometimes however though, I have been asked to simply do the workshop portion.  Although doing the latter is much more time efficient for that day, in the long run, if we do not clearly articulate “why” we are doing what we are doing, the “what” and the “how” are lost.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a school staff and gave a presentation on some of the trends happening in our world, and how we can leverage technology in a way to connect with our students, school community, and the rest of the world.  After the presentation, we were meant to do a workshop on Google Apps, but questions came up about Twitter, and how they would use that tool to connect and learn with so many great educators around the world.  The questions were inspired and teachers were excited about moving forward and learning something new.  As I left to head off to my next meeting, the entire staff was still there working on what I had tried to teach them.  It was inspiring for me to see and I was reluctant to leave.

I am not certain if the discussion that I had with them that day will stick with them, but I do know that taking that hour before and sharing them “why” we are trying to move forward will definitely increase the percentage of success.  As educators (and as people in general), we are always stressed about the amount of time that we have in a day, but as I have been told often, “sometimes we have to go slow, to go fast”.  Taking that time to discuss the why was important and needed.  It is also a lesson that I can learn greatly from as I continue my own work.

I have embedded the Sinek video below…if you have not seen it, it is definitely worth the 19 minutes it takes to watch it.



  1. Great post George. I am big fan of Simon Sinek’s work. His book is a definite must read. Many people and organizations operate around the idea of “What”. Your example using technology is perfect. You cannot begin with the tool/technology in schools. Those initiatives fail miserably. Effective initiatives begin with “Why” and move through “How” and “What”.

    February 4, 2012
  2. Hi George,

    I wrote a realted post last week:

    I’ve been hammering at this idea for a decade, along wth colleagues who work or who have worked at Island Pacific School ( here on the West Coast. The school is founded on the idea that the first thing we need to answer in edcuation is “Why?” You should talk to the school’s founder, Dr. Ted Spear. I’ll contact you via Twitter re an interesting project we have in the works…

    February 4, 2012
  3. George,
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of technology professional development opportunities and your statement on the importance of the answering the question “why” are doing what we are doing. As an educator in a school that has moved from one initiative to another in the past 5 years, it has been exhausting and disheartening to start something new only to see it fade away 9 months later. We have been missing the “why” and just focusing on the “how” or “what.” We need to have a strong foundation of “why” we are doing things before we can successfully implement them, not only with respect to emerging technology, but also with what we do on a daily basis. This foundation can then support and sustain our decisions.

    February 4, 2012
  4. Celina said:

    My teaching partner and I are beginning to prepare for collaborations and discussions regarding our newly developed 3/4/5 Multiage Program, which has been met with a mix of reactions. Your post was exactly the perspective we needed- making the “why” clear has been the part we have been avoiding for the intent of not trying to offend grade level teachers, as we respect our colleagues. But without the “why” being articulated, the “what” and “how” is being lost in translation. Now I clearly understand where we need to begin. The Sinek video is also powerful… Thank you for the inspiration. ~ Celina

    February 5, 2012

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