The “how” AND the “why”

We are more concerned with the “how”, at the neglect of the “why”.

How is a car made? How do I screw this bolt in? How is this part inspected? How do I polish the metal on the bonnet? How do I install this refrigerator? How do I operate this washing machine?

This disproportionate fixation on the “how” is a hangover of the industrial age. We needed answers in the form of manuals and standard operating procedures. And we put them everywhere – from the smallest watch to the largest refrigerator.

In fact, that is how we treated our jobs as well – with job descriptions and standard operating procedures. We wrote down how people should walk into work at 8 AM, should screw on widgets for 4 hours, should break for lunch at 12 and go home at 5 PM.

But we are moving on from this era. The best way to screw on widgets today is radically different from how it was done yesterday. Tomorrow, humans may no longer screw on widgets.

We could keep our operating manuals and our operating procedures. That is the still the quickest way to start somebody off on a new assignment. But along with the “how” in the manual, we also need to include a “why”.

How do you teach high school students?
So that they can do well on standardized tests.

Because these tests are the best measure of aptitude we have to admit them to college.

How do you cook burnt eggplant?
Expose it to direct flame on the stove for five minutes while rotating it

So that it acquires a smoky taste

Humans are creatures of habit and logic. Giving them just the “how”, recognizes only the former and doesn’t acknowledge the human ability to reason. In this manner, education has degraded to make standardized tests an end in themselves, often at the cost of imparting useful learning.

Specifying the “why” tells people the reason. It respects their logical abilities. It recognizes that in the absence of a direct flame, they could cook the eggplant in an oven to induce a smoky taste.I

In a world that is changing rapidly, people who are concerned merely with the “how” would be the first to be displaced.

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