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The Importance of Who, What and Why?

Ever wonder why some jobs work out so well and others fail so miserably? I’ve thought about this over the years and have made another one of those most obvious realizations. There is a simple formula for predicting my success. Here it is.

  • Who?

  • What?

  • Why?

Who do you work with?


Every job I have had since I started working at the age of fifteen, with the exception of one, was a result of having a relationship. My first job was at a pizza place where my friends worked, and referred me to the boss. I worked there through high school and college, until the next job, at a clothing store in the mall, where the CFO of the company happened to be a neighbor of my parents. I got a job at a radio station after college with a recommendation from the President of the radio group that owned it. I went to school with his daughter. I’ve worked in recording studios on both coasts, an ad agency, financial companies, healthcare companies, technology companies and even taught high school and college. All these jobs were directly tied to knowing someone and having a connection or relationship with them. All except the month-long gig as an Arthur Murray dance instructor. But, that’s another story. 


Who you work with is a critical factor of your success. Ultimately, we are social people who exist in families, teams, packs, tribes and societies. If you create personal connections, you build trust, confidence and commitment. You build a relationship with your team members. If you don’t have a connection with those you work with, you lose out on the benefit of the doubt and a reason for them to care about you being on their team.


What are you doing?


I have worked for many people doing many things. As a generalist, with a fairly broad range of skills, I have career A.D.D. Understanding what you “can do” versus what you “should do” is important. Spending time on your “A” skills versus your “C” skills creates better outcomes and better job satisfaction. That’s not to say you shouldn’t experiment and learn new things, or stretch yourself, but you should focus the majority of your time, energy and effort on doing the things you are good at, which make you happy and produce the best results. If you find yourself in a role that is outside of that core, high performance “sweet spot” for too long, you are spending your time on the wrong things, creating job dissatisfaction and disengagement.


I had a role that was heralded as being a “utility player” for an important team in a large organization. It was intended to be a moniker of success, demonstrating my flexibility and value to the team. I was asked to use a wide range of skills and abilities for a wide variety of activities, from strategy to storytelling to facilitating to designing to engaging end users. I was touted as the guy who could do it all. Frankly, it was a recipe for disaster. Other team members spent time asking me, “what do you do?” Because my role wasn’t defined, I effectively had no role on the team or in the organization. If you think about the best baseball players of all time, you can list names of the best pitchers, catchers, infielders and outfielders at every position, but can you list names of the best “utility player” in baseball history? 


Why are you there?


The reason why is the the most intangible, but perhaps the most important of the three questions that make up my formula for success. There’s a saying that if you sit at a poker table and cannot quickly determine who the “goat” is, then you’re the goat. They’ll take all your money and you’ll leave the game with nothing. I have found that if you take on a job and you cannot quickly determine why you are there, you will not be there for long. We spend our lives looking for our purpose. It’s what drives us, as people. When you take on a job, but have no real purpose beyond showing up and getting paid, there is very little motivation to succeed. Everyone needs to find their “why”. Understand the why before you accept the role, and you’ll have a goal to work toward, a sense of purpose and fulfillment that is critical to success, and a reason for being there, beyond just going through the motions. When you have an understanding of the “why”, you’ll make better choices toward a more rewarding work experience.


Who, what and why are the three factors I look for when I engage with an organization. If I can’t identify at least two of those immediately, I have learned to trust my gut and walk away. Finding all three factors lead to the best opportunity for a successful and satisfying working relationship. It’s a Mr. Obvious moment that has changed my path, and will hopefully add some food for thought to yours.

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