20 Sep 2013

The 1 Question That Matters Most...





As a kid, I loved sweets – especially kulfi. When I was 7, I attended a wedding where the kulfi was really tasty. I didn't stop at 1 plate. As I helped myself to a 3rd, my mom scornfully looked at me and said “Don’t eat so much.” “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s bad manners.” Being a typical 7-year old, I ignored her, finished my plate and took another one. My dad, who presumably had been watching my gluttonery, asked me “How many plates of kulfi would you order if you invited 100 people to a wedding?” “100”, I said, stout chested, proud of my maths. “And how many people will get to kulfi if you eat 4 plates?” he questioned. “96.” Suddenly I started feeling bad. “So 4 people at this wedding will not get to eat kulfi. If you really want, I’ll buy you your favourite ice cream after we leave from here”. I readily agreed. This 7 year old had no problems with the answer his father gave for his question – Why?

Our thoughts, behaviours and actions stem from a single question – Why? This question arises from the most ancient part of our brain – the amygdala. What we do and how we do it are results of the answers and are formed in the neo-cortex, the more recently developed lobe in our brain.


Whatever we may say, there always is an eventual reason for our actions. The reason why one buys a Blackberry shirt goes beyond a simple “because it’s good.” It’s because he’s asked himself why he should buy the shirt and his brain responded by saying that it fits him well and makes him look good. The quality and colour are secondary. The buyer buys it because his “Why” has been answered, though he may not fully be aware of it. Successful marketers and companies selling stuff stimulate our amygdala; they create an emotional bond with us. They give us a reason to buy from them. Simon Sinek, in the video below, explains why Apple is such a thriving company while competition is always playing catch up.


Wasn't it awesome? People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Which probably explains why Steve Jobs was so kick ass. By the time he was 25, he was worth $100 million. But it didn't matter to him. Why? Because he wanted to put a dent in the universe, not just make money. Martin Luther King’s & Gandhi’s ‘Why’ got them millions of followers. Why do people follow a good leader? Again, it’s beyond the “she’s a great person” dialogue. It’s because she inspires them, makes them feel good and cared for. The same concept goes for why a person may be despised.
So remember, if you want your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, or peers to do something or desist from it, you have to address their main question – Why? Why should they do what you say; what’s in it for them? If you’re a parent or a manager, this becomes even more important. You want your children and/or subordinates to look up to you, right? So, if you want to bring about a change, you must address their “Why”. Like my dad did. The “because I said so” techniques won’t get you far. Then again, the question is – Why do you want your bidding done? For your good, or for theirs?

Forget the world, look at yourself. Why do you start a venture? Is it merely to make money or because you see a need in society which you can fulfill  If it’s the former, you almost certainly will fail. Why do you want to become a musician? Is it because you want to make beautiful music or just get laid? If it’s the latter, you may score the odd college-going girl, but you’ll never be a good musician. Why do you blog? Is it just to get hits or because you genuinely want to tell people something? If it’s just the former, your quality will barely improve. And while you may attract traffic through various sources, you barely will have any quality in that either. Why are you helping someone? Is it because you expect them to help you in return or is it just a selfless act? Once again, if it’s the former, you’re most certainly bound to get hurt if they don’t reciprocate.

It’s the thought and not merely the action that helps you achieve excellence and nobility. We live in a world where we’re judged every day. Plus, as Captain Jack Sparrow says “The world is the same. There’s just less in it.” We keep reading and hearing appalling news each day that shakes our faith just that little bit more. Staying noble and true to your values becomes difficult, but not impossible. Ask yourself the question ‘Why’ before you do something. Keep your intentions clean and your actions will follow suit. Your character will form your reputation and not vice versa. Live like all your actions will appear on the front page of the newspapers. For all you know, someday they will.

15 comments :

  1. Very well explained Why? its good info for for consumer behavior.
    Good job bro

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  2. Many actions end up as incorrect ones because one does not think before acting. If one did the very first question one would try to answer is 'Why'.

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  3. Nice post, if all of us asked ourselves "why" for all our actions and thoughts, the world would be a little smarter, wouldn't it?

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  4. Thanks Tausif, Jaishree and Jairam. Indeed, answers to 'Why' will decide where we are and where we can go.

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  5. This post has been selected for the Spicy Saturday Picks this week. Thank You for an amazing post! Cheers! Keep Blogging :)

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  6. Thanks for this wonderful post! Puts lots of things in perspective

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  7. You are underplaying the power of ambition. Let's take money for example. If there were no returns in his investment (or time) would Steve Jobs have created Apple, still?

    I agree with your core philosophy, but the why without the reward looks very uninspiring to most of us (let's admit it). Money can make people do things that they never thought was possible by them. It is a powerful motivator. So, IMO, both the intention and the reward are equally important.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. You're right, money is a motivator... but I doubt it's a powerful one. Once money becomes a powerful motivator, the quality of the output deteriorates. Enron & the Sub-Prime crisis are 2 examples. And if you watch the video, Samuel Langley wanted to be rich v/s the Wright brothers, whose motive was totally the opposite. Guess who won?

      So while money may be a motivator, it's not a powerful one.

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  8. Yes, I agree with you completely on this. Money surely is a motivator, but not a powerful one. Great post.

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  9. Btw, i also wanted to +1 this blogpost, but could not find the button. Request please help. Thanks !

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    1. Purvesh, it's at the bottom of the article with the Twitter and FB share buttons...

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  10. Very insightful reading, Vishal. There is always so much to ponder, learn, inculcate and take back from your posts. Somehow this post (especially the last two paras) reminded me of that quote from Bhagvad Geeta - Karm Kiye ja, Phal ki chinta mat kar. Staying true to your own self - is the key, I guess.

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    1. That was exactly the idea... Spot on, Arti :)

      Thanks Anshu... Hope it also helps you in life...

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