What vs. How

This is a topic of discussion I have been having with colleagues, clients, and personal friends for many years now. I am troubled by my peers in the business of professional development and the general confusion around the differences between the “what” and the “how” of a solution to learning and growing.

What is the “what?” This is often the outcome, very rational, cognitive in nature, and for the most part, quite easy to come up with. If someone is worried, for example, the “what” might be to say “Don’t worry, be happy.”  If someone is overweight, the “what” might be to suggest they need to lose weight.  If someone is yelling, the “what” might be to say “yelling will get you nowhere.” There is nothing wrong with these responses to these situations. They are rational, cognitive and easy to come up with. The laundry list of such-like “what” is miles long and quite frankly, has been around for centuries.  The “what” is very different from the “how.”

I define the “how” as the steps to get you to the “what.” The “how” is much more emotional, more pragmatic, and much more challenging to formulate as one size very rarely fits all.  I see too many parents, coaches, trainers, and leaders talk at length about the “what” with good intentions to help others—and because the “what” appears like fast-food drive-through responses that has been canned, reprocessed, and repackaged, the results are often inconsistent. The “what” is fine so long as it is followed by the “how” in a cogent manner. There is too much “what” out there and an unforgivably low amount of the “how” to go with it.

This week, I encourage you to note the distinction between the two and make note when you hear yourself or others use the “what.”  Think about how much better all parties could be if there was a thoughtful “how” to go along with it.  Add at least one “how” to each of your “what” this week.


One response to “What vs. How

  1. Natalie Beattie

    Hi Izzy,
    I look forward to receiving your blogs – I always learn something from them and reflect and try to incorporate some of the suggestions into my daily life.
    Particulalrly enjoyed the ‘how’ and ‘what’ …yes I will try to incorporate a more thoughtful ‘how’ this week.
    So – thank you!

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