What vs How: Which is more important and why we don’t act accordingly.

Little boy playing violin. What vs how can make a big difference in learning and development

If you really want to know who a person is, would you rather know what they’ve accomplished, or how they’ve performed? What vs how? Results vs behaviors?

You may already have an answer in mind, but how sure are you?

Two stories from my childhood may shed a bit of light on the controversial issue of knowing what vs how.

Childhood Example #1 : “Sour notes”

When I was in third grade I picked up my Dad’s violin and began playing a few simple songs. Noting that I could make the ole fiddle produce recognizable tunes, and desperate to find something I was good at (neither academia nor sports were my thing in grade school), my folks signed me into violin lessons.

By my fourth year of lessons it was time to demonstrate my virtuosity to the rest of the school. For this grand debut, my instructor suggested I play a duet — WITH MY MOTHER! Had smartphones been around, this would have warranted a classic, “OMG” text — or worse. But I’m committed to keeping these posts at or below a PG-13 rating. {Note: That isn’t me in the picture — but that’s how I felt.}

My mother was an accomplished pianist — and she can still play — but some of the virtuosity of her material has ‘frayed’ a bit with disuse. Nevertheless, her part was easy for her (even today). As for me, despite the fact that I’d be: playing a violin, in front of my classmates, with my mother — my part was a real stretch for my skill level.

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3 Reasons Why Character Matters More Than Expertise

Man holding sign that reads, "What makes you unique?" The answer is character.

What makes anybody unique?

To help answer this question, let’s conduct a little test.

Think of someone you’ve known at work (or non-work) who stands out as exceptional from the rest. Got someone specific in mind? Now then, what was/is it about this person that truly made/makes them remarkable?

I can just about guarantee that the list of attributes that comes to your mind features more character traits (e.g., “helpful”, “caring”, “generous”, etc.) than specialized skills or work expertise.

I’ve asked this question to many people. Over 90% of the answers I get have to do with character. To back up these ‘answers’ with a bit more evidence, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of witnessing more than a few mid- to upper-level executives “walked out” of the building — It’s never been for lack of expertise.

Why does character matter so much?

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