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February 19, 2010
Why We Do What We Do

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some "quality time" alone with myself as I drove back and forth to the San Francisco Bay Area over the course of two days.  Being left alone in your own thoughts for 20 or so hours is a really good way to get the creativity flowing in your brain as you ponder the great truths of the universe (or try to calculate where the next rest stop is along the highway).

The What, Where, Who & When

As I drove along, the first things that began to think about were all the things that I needed to do when I returned home or to the office on Monday.  I began making mental (and written) notes about what items needed to be completed, who needed to be involved, and schedules of where and when these tasks were to take place. 

After several hours I looked over at my scribbled notes and soon determined that there were simply not enough hours over the course of the next several days or even weeks to complete all of the assignments I had of my scheduled for myself.

At that point, my thinking took another path...How could I possibly get all these things done?

The How

When confronted with adversity (be it self-created or created for us), the most successful people create mechanisms to achieve, to grow, and to contribute. They figure out ways to get it done.  Successful people make a conscience decision to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to overcome the obstacles placed in front of them.  They create a plan and act.

The tools needed to accomplish our goals are typically divided into two distinct categories: 

Resources and Resourcefulness

Resources are typically tangible such as money, time, technology, people, knowledge, health, and skills.

Resourcefulness typically is intangible such as creativity, determination, love, curiosity, passion and resolve.

Just because an abundance of resources are available to someone, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be successful.  We all know people who were born into wealth or have an above average intelligence only for them to chronically underachieve.

More commonly, are people who may be very successful in one area of their lives and a complete failure in another such as the successful business person or athlete who fail at creating loving relationships, succumb to addictions or declare personal bankruptcy.

Then there are those other people who start with little or nothing in this world.  Who have suffered great tragedies.  Who were born into poverty, disease, and/or injustice but who go on, in spite of their lack of resources, to achieve great success and create a better world for themselves and others around them. 

The defining factor of success is typically not the lack or resources but rather the lack of resourcefulness.

The Why

Way back in grade school, I recall taking exams that consisted of mostly "What, Where, When and Who" questions...as I went through high school the questions became slightly harder when they also included "How" questions.  When I arrived at college, the difficulty of the questions increased  more and more as the "Why" questions were introduced.

Imagine bending light through a prism to create a colored spectrum, a young child might accurately describe "what" is happening..."we hold this piece of glass up to the sun and a rainbow of colors appear on the wall"...now in order to describe "how" that rainbow is created, it would take some knowledge about the refraction of light through glass...consequently, in order to describe "why" it happened...it would take advanced knowledge in photon and optical theory...the "why" is always the most difficult to understand and explain...

Why do we do what we do?

Many psychologists and social scientists have been studying this problem for centuries.  Many of them have concluded that human beings act to fulfill certain basic needs and that these needs are scaled in some order from basic needs to more esoteric needs.  We act to fulfill our needs.  This is our "Why".

A widely accepted model of our basic needs was developed by Abraham Maslow in the mid 20th century.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs are described as follows::
  • Substance - Food, water, oxygen, shelter, sleep
  • Safety - Security and protection from physical harm and certainty of the continuance of basic Substances
  • Social Connection - Family, love, friendship, society
  • Esteem - Significance, importance, uniqueness, achievement, respect
  • Self-Actualization - Morality, creativity, growth, social contribution, betterment of society
Why do we come to work each day?...to earn money to feed and house ourselves and our families or to achieve something great and make a difference in the world?...

Companies, governments, and societies are not individuals but rather are a conglomerate of individual people who define the group...

Each of us have our own motivation...our own fears...our own attitudes...our own emotions...our own needs...own individual and unique reasons for our decisions and actions...our own "why".

Answer the "what, when, where and who" questions and you have tasks and assignments...

Answer the "how" questions and you have direction...

Answer the "why" questions and you have purpose...

Thank you very much for all of your support of OptiFuse where we hope one day to contribute to your Why...

Jim Kalb

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