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How Do You Communicate Your Why? | Lessons from Adam Grant's Originals | #VUHRDOneBook

Chapter 5 in Adam Grant's Originals is titled Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse. This chapter focuses on how originals build alliances to move their ideas forward. Many lessons can be gathered through the stories and examples Grant shares in this chapter, but one in particular struck a cord with me because it went against one of my assumptions that communicating your why is always essential.

Start with Why!

For those of you who have not seen the Simon Sinek TED Talk, "How great leaders inspire action," or read his book Start with Why, please stop reading this post and watch his talk now. Seriously. Here is the talk, so you don't even have to leave this page...

Sinek's golden circle, where the center is the why behind your actions, can be applied beyond leadership, management, business, or change efforts. Communicating the why first, as Sinek explains, helps others understand the values and beliefs that drive your actions. It is a concept that I so strongly believe in, it has become a core value in how I live my life and work with others. Start with why! If I am communicating with students about a principle or theory, I start with why that theory matters to me or this subject and why it should matter to them, too. If I am determining my goals for the next year , I start with why things are important to me and work outwards to the how and what I will accomplish. Start with why is a concept I strongly support, so Grant's notion that this does not always work, especially in the case of an original idea, challenged me.

Maybe, don't start with why.

Grant explains that "when creative non-conformists explain their why, it runs the risk of clashing with deep-seated convictions" held by others. The challenge is that an original challenging the status quo is going up against just that: the status quo. Others may find an original approach to be radical, unappealing, or even not possible. Grant gives us several examples of originals who faced this type of opposition when trying to advance their new idea. This makes sense to me: if you are doing something new, others may resist.

What challenged me was the idea that an original explaining their why would not inspire others to get behind them. To Grant's point, sometimes the most radical ideas of original thinkers are hard for others to grasp or even consider when only the why is presented. The why seems too new or too crazy to consider how one might get there. However, when the focus of a radical idea is shifted from the why, to the how, people begin to focus on the steps that are possible and not the radical idea that comes together at the end of those steps. I'm not changing my philosophy of starting with why in other situations, but Grant's perspective on original ideas has challenged me to think differently about how I present radical ideas in the future. As he said, "when you are doing something that challenges the status quo, you have to be careful about how you communicate your why."

What lessons did you learn in Chapter 5? #VUHRDOneBook


Bethany J. Adams, MA is an Assistant Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about her here!

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