Zen is you – Be.

Why Why Why

Posted in impact, objectives, satisfaction, Uncategorized by dave225 on December 24, 2008

Perhaps you’re familiar with this parable about stone masons and purpose (text that I lifted from here, but it could have been anywhere):

I’m reminded of a story about a traveler in the Middle Ages, who visited a city where many stone cutters were working. Approaching several, he asked the same question:

“What are you doing?”

The first stonecutter he met replied, “I’m cutting stone. It’s dull work, but it pays the bills.”

A second stonecutter responded, “I’m the best stone cutter in the land. Look at the smoothness of this stone, how perfect the edges are.”

A third pointed to a foundation several yards away, and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

One lacked purpose altogether. The second was proud of the work he did. But the third clearly had a sense of purpose, of the greater reason for his work. It’s safe to assume that the third stone cutter never got lost in the boredom of the work or became obsessed with being the best. The third stone cutter knew that his work was critical to the successful completion of a larger project the construction of a cathedral.

Well it occurred to me this morning that this parable is incomplete.  “I’m building a cathedral!”  Well why in god’s name* are you doing that?  The vision for this cathedral isn’t to have a giant, unoccupied building plopped down where there used to be farmland.  And it wasn’t built just to give people something to do.  What’s the bigger WHY?!

It must have a bigger purpose than “build it.”  Is it to glorify God*?  To establish a place of community, a civic center? And why would you want either of those?  To raise the standard of living for all citizens or to make the king richer?  What is the real vision? And what are the real benefits?

Execution (i.e. building stuff) comes from people working.  Vision and strategy come from the top.  Every bit of work at every level should have that vision behind it.  So whether you’re building a cathedral or a website:  ask yourself about the real why.

(*no specific religious affiliation, promotion or denigration intended.)

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4 Responses

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  1. Andy Havens said, on December 22, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Different Why’s:

    The Cardinal: “To glorify God.”
    The Bishop: “To increase attendance, novitiates, and tithes.”
    The Mayor: “To attract people to the nearby fair.”
    The Architect: “To create a thing of lasting beauty.”
    The Mason: “To support my family.”

    If the mason wasn’t working on a cathedral, he’d be building a house for the same “why.” If the architect wasn’t designing the cathedral, he’d be designing a bridge for the same “why.” Etc. Maybe the trick for a leader is to assemble, administer and empower a bunch of overlapping, reinforcing, yet different “whys”

  2. dave225 said, on December 22, 2010 at 5:05 am

    ah – I bow to your wise perspective.! very good thoughts.

    (I was thinking of it only as the guy signing the checks.)

  3. […] already blogged once about asking WHY …  But watch this video .. everything I have queued to write, hinges on this […]


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