Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What? Why?


I was at a conference today and one of the speakers described how a lot of government managers confuse what they do with why they do it. If you ask someone who runs a program to inspect restaurants, "what do you do?" They might answer, "we protect the public health." But really what they do is send inspectors to restaurants to compare conditions with a set of rules. They've confused what they do with why they do it.

Being a complete orienteering geek, I wondered about orienteers. Do we mix up what and why? Tonight I was feeling a bit off. I'm getting over a cold. When I look at my training log, I see that I wrote what I did (an easy 20 minutes on the rowing machine). But, I also wrote a little bit about why I did it (to burn off some calories from the brownie I ate at the conference). In the big picture, I'm not even sure I could explain "why" I trained (accepting that 20 minutes of rowing even qualifies as training) today.

I'm guessing that if my training was a bit more focused - for example, if I had a clear medium term goal - I'd have no trouble answering both "what?" and "why?" about my training.

Back to okansas.blogspot.com.

posted by Michael | 7:26 PM


I can't but agree, having been in the public sector. I also find it disturbing the other way around. If you ask them - using your example - why they inspect restaurants, you get the answer "restaurants have to comply with a set of rules" instead of "we protect public health".

Being antiher o-geek, I have to come up with a corresponding example. One example would be why you log your training. You might respond that you want to keep track of amounts and divisions of your traing, which again is "what you do". You probably log because it helps you become a better athlete?
In the non-public sector it seems like people confuse "what" with "where." When you ask people what they do, they often tell you the name of the company they work for. It is a bit strange. I guess the lesson is that people tend to give an answer to a question not THE answer to the question. That's one reason auditing can take so long.

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