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Know Jack # 418 How and Why

“…the person who knows “How” will always have a job, but the person who knows “Why” will always be the boss.”  Benjamin Franklin.


This bit of wisdom would stand Ben Franklin in good stead with modern business experts, as long as he kept his mouth shut about politics. The drive to be the boss is keenly developed in most humans. However, it is one thing to be the boss, it is quite another to be an effective leader. It is my contention that before anyone can really understand “why” they must first know “how”.

A group of Christian missionaries once traveled by motorboat far up the Amazon when the motor on the boat conked out. The villagers they were with were amazed beyond measure that none of the travelers knew how to repair the motor. The missionaries were quite capable of explaining how the turning screw propelled them through the water—they knew why the boat moved, but none knew how to make it do so. One of the reasons this so amazed their hosts was that they made everything they possessed. They were thoroughly acquainted with how it worked. This familiarity gave them an understanding of the limitations of what they made and why it worked in some instances and not others.

Many successful writers are notorious for breaking the rules of composition. However, they do not do so ignorantly. They know the rules, that is, they know “how” to write. Armed with the knowledge of how words work, they were free to explore “why” breaking the rules sometimes worked for them.

I once worked on a med/surg unit with a nurse who had recently graduated from a Master’s program at a very prestigious university. She had been asking why for six years and getting answers to her questions. She had extremely limited skills when it came to how to function at the bedside and often came to me for practical advice and help to do the job. This was true even though I had graduated from my Associate program at about the same time.

Now, someone will say to me, but one day she will be your boss. That’s true enough. A major problem I found with the profession was that there were too many bosses who did not know how to do what they asked others to do, rendering them technically useless. Those supervisors lacked adaptability. Their answers to “Why” were slow and clumsy in situations that demanded knowing how to do something on the fly.

The Air Force taught me that if I learned to be a boss, it didn’t matter what activity I was the boss of, whether it was aircraft repair, operating radar, or overseeing the finance office. I suppose they are right as long as they never find themselves upriver without a working motor.

There is one last thought. A man with a job can always become so skilled that he one day works for himself. Those who boss others always have to find someone to make them a boss. Sorry, Ben.

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