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SmartCat Values: Start with "Why?"

Back 06/02/17
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Why did we organize this meeting? Why do I have to write the minutes of meeting after each call? It is important to know why are we doing things we do - we need to have an end goal and acceptance within us to make us want to do things we do. This is why the second of SmartCat company values is:

Start with Why

Know who you are and what you want. Know what you’re doing and why
If you can’t answer “why?” question, drop what you’re doing and reconsider.

 

Why are we all here? Why is the sky blue? Why me? Why not?
As all living beings, we all need to have a purpose in life. We may not have a scientific proof if we are all just lost souls on a “pale blue dot” in the vast nothingness of space, or if we are all a part of a much bigger picture. It’s most likely both...

Asking the question “why?” means you’re digging deeper. It means you’re investigating, you are seeking understanding. That is a necessary part of internalizing knowledge, but also understanding your relationship with the topic at hand - subconsciously asking yourself “why does this thing make me feel the way I feel, why does it affect me… why should I care!?”. When we see the bigger picture, when we get to the level of understanding that makes us feel comfortable (when we think we understand it) that’s when we decide whether or not we accept the notion or a concept. Acceptance is a time-relative concept - we may not accept something at a given moment, because sometimes we need to live in denial for a while before we come to terms with reality.

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Some of you may have read the book “Start with why?” by Simon Sinek, and I must say that it did open my eyes to the importance of the question itself and the power it holds to inspire change, focused effort and unity. The way I see it, asking why is the same as asking “what’s the idea?” and then deciding if it matters to you personally or not. If it does, the whole process of asking the question, finding and analyzing the answer is of utmost importance, in my opinion.

Besides the cognitive value behind the question “Why?”, there’s also the emotional one - as we all are emotional beings. When we understand why, the brain is pacified. After that comes the question of the heart - is this really me? What does this “thing” stand for? Is that a part of me? Do I believe in it, and am I ready to fight for it or do I just understand it and I’m cool with it (apathy rooted in perceived non-relevance)? On a flipside, you may also find out that you don’t understand it - but we will never admit it to ourselves in those exact words because we protect our prism of perception at all costs (think of it as an emotional, intellectual and spiritual filter for all external stimuli that changes through time with our life experiences). Yes, we subconsciously try to protect it no matter what and it comes as no surprise since, it represents the world as we know it!

Separate from the obvious purpose of asking “Why?” (learning about the world around us) there is a secondary purpose, which, in my book, is much more valuable. With each examination of the world around you, you are also examining yourself and forming opinions - you’re growing. When you ask the question why, you are trying to understand more. This means that you’re curious, it means that you care about the world around you - you’re alive and conscious. To be honest, there are things that I explicitly and deliberately don’t want to understand - this is because I don’t see a greater “why” behind it. In other words, the way I see the world, that area of knowledge does not intrigue me. I’m also aware that you cannot ever know everything so you need to prioritize, because our memory is limited and so is time - none of us is here to stay.

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Each and every one of us at SmartCat has asked ourselves the question “why” many times over, on a daily basis, actually - heck, even our meeting template has a “why” section because there’s no worse thing than a time wasting meeting (without a clear goal to be achieved). It’s simple - when we understand why we’re doing something we are “in it”. Whole-mindedly and whole-heartedly. That’s also when you’re “real”, when you feel free to speak your mind - when we have a common goal. And when that happens, when communication is clear - the sky's the limit. The road may become bumpy when opinions collide, but the end result will always be more realistic, and the end decision will be a better one - no doubt about that.

In a team, this rule serves as a filter - you need to know what you’re doing and you need to care about it. If you don’t, we’re all just wasting each other’s time. That sounds a bit rough, let’s not say wasting, since each experience carries a value, let’s say that “we’re not investing”  - that would be a more accurate statement.

The coolest of all features of the question “why” is that it’s recursive. You can keep asking it, and with each iteration you will get deeper into the driving forces behind things. You can keep asking it forever, and if you do it enough times you will realize that you really don’t know as much as you thought you did about the world, and yourself in it. Some may think this is a big problem to solve, but I personally think this is the beauty of the world around us - its limitlessness. All the limits are within us, which may be necessary for us to function - in the end, we are only a subset of a much greater picture whose purpose we could never comprehend. Even if some higher being who gets it (an alien, an extraterrestrial AI system or God) tried to explain it to us it would probably go over our heads. And that’s OK. We don’t know and we shouldn’t know everything. What we need to focus on is finding ourselves - that’s how we shall find happiness and purpose.

Do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing? Have you asked why are you with the company that you are working for or why are you interested in a specific technology? Do you have a longer term career goal that accounts for the market changes that are happening? Always know why…

 

 

Bojan Kovac

Co-Founder & CEO

A computer science graduate with over 10 years of experience managing software projects and product development while leading organizational changes towards operational maturity and efficiency.