Em­brace the power of why

The Insider - - EDITOR'S - Niko­lay Mal­yarov EVP, Chief Con­tent Of­fi­cer and Gen­eral Coun­sel @mal­yarov

Eric Sch­midt, the for­mer Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man of Google and Al­pha­bet Inc. once said, “We run this com­pany on ques­tions, not an­swers.” Sch­midt be­lieved that if you keep ask­ing ques­tions you can keep find­ing bet­ter an­swers.

Some of the most provoca­tive ques­tions start with the word “why.” Young­sters are no­to­ri­ous for us­ing it — ques­tion­ing ev­ery­thing from “Why is the sky blue?” to “Why do ze­bras have stripes?”. A 2013 study in the UK found that moth­ers of 4-year-old girls are asked one ques­tion nearly ev­ery two min­utes of their wak­ing day, to­tal­ing close to 400 in­quis­i­tive ques­tions a day. As­ton­ish­ing!

As chil­dren, we’re in­nately cu­ri­ous and aren’t afraid to ques­tion ev­ery­thing. It’s how we learn. And we all re­mem­ber that age, don’t we? Then, as we ma­ture, most of us stop ask­ing why be­cause we be­lieve we know ev­ery­thing we need to know, so why ask why?

In­stead, we grav­i­tate to­wards what we know, as­sume, and ac­cept as gospel. We’re so busy that we never stop to ques­tion why we do what we do, whether it’s at work, at home, or in our so­cial lives. And when some­one does ques­tion us, our ac­tions, or de­ci­sions, we of­ten re­act de­fen­sively or even get an­gry, don’t we?

But there are those rare and unique hu­man be­ings who never stop ask­ing why. Al­bert Ein­stein was one such man, as is Elon Musk. A pro­po­nent of first prin­ci­ples think­ing, the self-made bil­lion­aire uses the power of why to break down com­pli­cated prob­lems un­til all pre­con­ceived as­sump­tions are proven to be true or false.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to rea­son from first prin­ci­ples rather than by anal­ogy. The nor­mal way we con­duct our lives is we rea­son by anal­ogy,” states Musk. “[With anal­ogy] we are do­ing this be­cause it’s like some­thing else that was done, or it is like what other peo­ple are do­ing. [With first prin­ci­ples] you boil things down to the most fun­da­men­tal truths…and then rea­son up from there.”

By re­duc­ing ar­gu­ments down to first prin­ci­ples, we open up our minds to new dis­cov­er­ies, new pos­si­bil­i­ties, and new think­ing which in­spires bet­ter de­ci­sion mak­ing.

In the me­dia world, dig­ging deeper and solv­ing the chal­lenges fac­ing our in­dus­try us­ing first prin­ci­ples al­lows us to ques­tion the fun­da­men­tals of the fourth es­tate. This, to some in­cum­bents, is a scary propo­si­tion, but I be­lieve that if we can re­ally get down to the core of why we ex­ist as an in­dus­try (our mis­sion) then we can bet­ter rein­vent our­selves in what the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum calls the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

This era will be volatile, no doubt about it. To thrive in it we need to ask, why, and we need to ask it of­ten.

For ex­am­ple, ask your­self, “Why do we need a website?”

Be­cause that is where we want peo­ple to come to con­sume our con­tent.

Why?

Be­cause it’s eas­ier for us to mon­e­tize our con­tent there.

Why?

Be­cause we haven’t been able to mon­e­tize our con­tent suc­cess­fully through other means.

Why?

Be­cause…

You get the pic­ture. Here are some other ques­tions we should an­swer with first prin­ci­ple think­ing.

• Why do we cre­ate con­tent? Is it be­cause we be­lieve con­tent to be a vi­tal part of a demo­cratic so­ci­ety or do we view it sim­ply and solely as a ve­hi­cle for ad­ver­tis­ing?

• Why do we put be­hind a pay­wall newswire con­tent that is al­ready freely avail­able on­line? Is it be­cause we don’t have enough unique con­tent on our own or that we need to have more pages to host more ad­ver­tis­ing?

• Why do jour­nal­ists need pub­lish­ers in what is becoming a zero mar­ginal cost so­ci­ety — where the price of dis­tribut­ing and mar­ket­ing con­tent is tend­ing to­wards nil?

• Why do news­pa­pers need to be printed when the largest ma­jor­ity of our au­di­ences own a smart­phone or a tablet?

• If ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars flow to highly-pop­u­lated plat­forms, why don’t we join to­gether to cre­ate our own plat­form and cap­i­tal­ize on the proven strat­egy that says: con­tent + com­mu­nity = cash?

• Why do peo­ple com­ment on con­tent? Why don’t con­tent cre­ators join in the con­ver­sa­tion to grow en­gage­ment?

• Why should we care?

By con­struc­tively chal­leng­ing con­ven­tion, pre­con­ceived con­cep­tions, and as­sump­tions we can start to truly ad­dress the core prob­lems our in­dus­try faces and start to make a real dif­fer­ence for our­selves and the peo­ple we serve. We need to de­con­struct so we can re­con­struct.

The same think­ing goes for other con­sumer-fac­ing in­dus­tries. Why? Be­cause peo­ple are the ultimate de­ci­sion-mak­ers now.

I hope you en­joy this is­sue of The In­sider, where we try to an­swer a lot of why ques­tions. I hope it in­spires you as it did me when we were putting it to­gether.

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