The Why Behind the How

I am an educator by trade, not by schooling. So, I learn a lot about learning every time I teach a class. 

This week, while teaching a Fundamentals of Innovation class, a participant taught me something I will never forget. 

Each morning of our training, we ask the class to reflect on the previous day. We ask participants to share what they learned, big picture, from the previous day.  

Innovation Theory Method and Practice

One gentleman in class shared a story. He said that a while back he had been taught one of the same methods that we taught in class. However, it was taught differently that time. The method was taught at face value, in other words, he was taught to follow the method step by step to get the desired results. 

He said he didn’t think that it would work for him in his job- so he never tried the method after that class. He had no confidence in the method. 

But then he went on to say, in this class, he learned WHY the method worked. He learned the theory that the method was grounded in. So, he said, “…now I have more confidence to try it and adapt it to fit my needs, I get it.”

At that point, I felt good. But I had a sharp ping of worry at the same time. 

For this particular method, the student understood the theory and the application and so I did my job. 

I teach Innovation Engineering. As a discipline, Innovation Engineering is known for being the how-to of innovation. We’ve taken abstract innovation theory and created a set of practical and ready to use tools and tactics. 

So my worry was this. How many times have I taught a technique or method without explaining the theory upon which it is based. How many students have followed a method step by step without achieving their desired results because they didn’t know WHY it was built this way (which would have enabled them to adapt or adjust it).

If someone you are trying to train doesn’t understand WHY something works, they may not be able to replicate success with it and they definitely will not be able to adapt it to work in each unique situation they find themselves in. 

It sounds so obvious. It sounds so simple. But my learning, and thus, my advice for today is to take the time to teach (if you are in that position) the WHY behind the HOW. 

And if you are the learner - keep asking why.