The Why Theory

When I first starting working in the building trades, the guys that I worked around were a real cast of characters.  I was a youngster so most, if not all, of the guys were older than me.  The one thing that I noticed was that the majority of the guys really had fun at work.  There were plenty of practical jokes, laughter and comic relief so the day went by quickly.  This wasn’t because the work was easy.  Construction work is hot, dirty, sweaty and tiring. There is nothing easy about it.  Yet, surrounded with the right cast of characters, the day went by pretty quickly and we really had fun.

Under construction

The other remarkable thing I noticed was the way the older guys would take the time to teach the younger guys how to properly do the work.  There were no hidden secrets or protecting of territories.  The older guys would openly share their knowledge and take the new recruits under their wings.  They taught, nurtured and celebrated when the youngsters began to excel in the work.  They took the time away from their work and actually showed them how to do it.  And most importantly they explained why you must do the work in a particular way.

Sadly, I think we are losing ground in both of these areas.  I see tradesmen today who are addicted clock watchers who are simply counting down the minutes to the end of the day.  There is less laughter and more tension on the jobsite.  Many of the most skilled tradesmen are reluctant to share their knowledge of the trade because it takes additional effort or they have the warped fear that they may be training their replacement.  It gives me great pain watching this occur when I know how it can be.  How it was. They don’t realize that you can actually have fun at work.   And most importantly, they have lost touch with the satisfaction that comes from training up the next generation.

I have a new recruit at work.  He is young and bright and has an excellent future in front of him.  He is learning and is very inquisitive.  We are extremely busy so I have been confronted with the tension of just giving him the “What” and not the “Why” because it simply takes more time. 

See- the “What” is easy.  Do this, do that.  Don’t ask why just do it! 

I know there are managers who feel like the “What” is enough.  They will figure it out.  I don’t have time to explain everything.

They are so wrong!

You must do the why!  You must take the time to explain the why!

This is the way I see it.  Life is a puzzle.  All the pieces need to fit together.  If you fail to give the why, it is like trying to shove a puzzle piece in a spot where it doesn’t belong.  You fail to see why something is important and how it fits in the overall system.   You are simply following directions.  Yet when you do the why- it’s similar to reaching the end of the puzzle- when you can quickly put many pieces in place very quickly. 

It begins to make sense.  You can see the big picture.  Once you have the big picture you can also begin to see beyond the picture– you can expand your horizon.  This is how innovation occurs.  This is the why theory.

The why is the pathway to growth.  I tell my gang at work that I can’t think for everyone.  It’s just impossible.  They must think for themselves.  They must take ownership and be the author of both problemsolving and process improvement.  Yet, without answering the why questions, they are unable to comprehend the complete picture and ill equipped to make quality decisions.

So take the time to do the why.  Put away your agenda and pour into others.  They need the why.  We all need the why.  When I started out, the old guys understood this.  They knew they were making us all stronger by sharing their knowledge.   Don’t underestimate the importance of your role in this! 

Do you struggle with taking the time to give the why?  Let me know your story!  Click on comment below and let me know what you think!  If you like the post PLEASE press “Like” and post on Facebook or Twitter! 

9 responses to “The Why Theory”

  1. After reading your blog, I can’t agree more. I started off as a draftsman at a steel fabrication plant in N.W. Georgia. As you stated, there were a few older guys in the engineering department. I was originally trained on the board and eventually the company moved on to computers. I learned so much from the older guys and in about 3 years, I knew how almost every little piece of steel fit together and why it fit. Later on, I became the “older” guy and trained the new guys. Smoley’s Four Combined Tables also became our friend. We came to the conclusion that there were two different types of draftsman – a Detailer and a Cadd Operator. A Detailer knew what was being drawn and why. A Cadd Operator only drew what they saw and didn’t know how it all worked out in the structure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are talented Cadd Operators out there and my intentions are not to disrespect them. With the changing times, a lot of that knowledge that the older guys have, seem to be a dying art.


    • Chris:

      Thanks for your insight! You definately get it! We have to take the time to train up the next generation! This is our job- to pour into the young people and help them become the best they can be. Thanks for the comments and your support!


  2. Thanks, Joe! It’s definitely time to bring back the “why”. We’re all so involved in our technological gadgets, we simply don’t really communicate anymore. Email me, text me – I don’t have time to talk! It starts with each one of us. Take the time to get to know each other again. Great post! God bless you! 🙂


    • Man- you are right on the money! I have heard of companies that have “no e-mail days” to encourage actual personal communication. We have some guys who we have to “encourage” to get out of their caves! Work should be fun and personal. Shoot- I think I spend more time some weeks with my workmates than my wife! Thanks for your comments Dave and your willingness to contribute! Blessings to you and your family!


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