Why “Why” Matters

By Lisbet Hansen, Marketing Manager at Cylindo

Why do you go to work every day? To pay the rent? Because no mullah no fun? Really… is that it?

We spend nearly 90.000 hours of our lives working. That is likely more time than you’ll spend doing anything else. And most of us seem to believe we do it for money.

So is it worth spending so many hours of our lives chasing money? Behavioral Psychologists have studied the effect of money on things like happiness, performance, and sense of fulfillment. Funny thing about money is that it works, to a degree, then it plateaus and the effect from there on is minimal, actually some things get worse.

When you have no money or little money, gaining some will certainly make you happier, you will feel less stressed and therefore be more productive and have a greater sense of fulfillment in your life.

There is a saying that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but that is not entirely true, there is a clear correlation between having money and feeling happy. Money affords you a certain level of peace of mind, and that is indeed very valuable. But more money does not equal more peace of mind or more happiness.

Daniel Kahneman, a renowned psychologist, actually found the dollar amount that correlates with the highest marginal utility of money in terms of income. The magic number is $75.000, after that every extra dollar has less and less impact on overall happiness. Of course, the amount varies depending on where you live and how much $75.000 is going to get you. As with all things in life, this too is relative.


http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-purpose-plan-desire-goal-speedometer-gauge-measure-meaningful-su-word-needle-rising-past-goals-as-steps-to-image46745372Another famed psychologist, Dan Ariely, studied the effect of money on motivation and performance. The results showed that sure enough, if you dangle a carrot in front of people, they work harder to earn it. But the quality of their performance declines with the increased size of the carrot. It simply becomes much harder to think creatively and critically, because the carrot is stealing the focus.

People become more prone to unnecessary risk-taking and lack perspective in their decision-making. Sounds familiar? Hello financial crisis!

No wonder Ariely was not invited back to speak at the annual bankers’ conference after he presented his findings on this. So if money can only make you so happy, and only make you perform so well, is that enough value to warrant spending 90.000 hours chasing after it?

Well most of us don’t really have a choice. Gotta bring home the bacon right!

And that is why this word is so incredibly important – Purpose. The reason we do what we do. The stuff that gives stuff meaning. The big WHY.

Most people can tell you what they do, they can likely also tell you how they do it. But ask them why they do it, and an awkward silence tends to happen followed by lack-luster replies like “I do it because it is my job” or “I do it to make money”. Not terribly inspiring replies, not the kind that makes you think “wow – I wish I had your life”.

We need great leadership

To give people a more satisfying and fulfilling sense of why they go to work, we need great leadership. Leaders that are able to communicate why our work is meaningful, inspire us to find our own sense of purpose. When we feel we are part of creating something together, something none of us could accomplish alone, and we know our contributions count – and of course we are adequately and fairly compensated, that is when working 90.000 hours makes perfect sense.

Too many leaders mistakenly believe the purpose of business is making money. Following that logic, then the purpose of life should be eating or breathing. Yes, businesses need to make money in order to survive and thrive, the same way humans need food and air to survive and thrive, but it is hardly the purpose of it. Purpose is something bigger and more meaningful, it has substance.

We do not all need to work in some fantastically innovative field to find inspiring answers to why we work. Imagine you made nuts and bolts for a living, not the sexiest thing in the world. But what if you did it because your nuts and bolts made sure airplanes were assembled so they can bring people safely from A to B. Suddenly, your nuts and bolts have a clear and meaningful sense of purpose and you can feel proud of your contribution to aviation security. It’s just an example, but you get the point right.

I love the vision statement from Toys R’ Us “Our Vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces.” Now if that doesn’t give you a sense of purpose, I sure don’t know what would.

Of course great leadership is more than a heartfelt vision statement. If it only pays lip-service then it has little to do with leadership to begin with. But if it is the foundation and the reason why every person in the company do what they do, then it is inspiring, unifying and altogether awesome.

Great leaders show us the path, they give us a map with a desired destination, and instill the confidence in us that together we can make it there.

Simon Sinek, an American business consultant, says that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The same is true for your employees. They do not love their jobs because of what they do, they love their jobs because of why they do it.

And that is why “why” matters.

Sadly, great leaders are in short supply.