The battle for how.

Humans have long been captivated by the fundamental questions of "What?" and "Why?". The "What" is the king of questions, while the "Why" stands tall as the queen. Our ancestors, like us, have been faithful subjects to these two reigning inquiries.

Let's look at the "Why" more closely. This question is often rooted in fear or, occasionally, curiosity. Yes, fear—and sometimes its close cousin, greed, which is simply another manifestation of that primal emotion.

Before proceeding, let me set the proper context. We must recognise the limitations of human nature and our vulnerabilities—our perceptions of reality can be distorted, and our capacity to construct, process, and respond to it is relatively poor.

With that foundation laid, we can see that almost every organisation uses the answers to "Why?" to identify the root of a problem, and most people rely on it to guide their decision-making. Entire methodologies, frameworks, and books have been built and written around this question, as it taps into one of our most essential emotional responses - fear, our reaction to threats. I have the feeling I'm repeating myself now...

Answering "Why?" provides direction in every domain, from religion to politics, business to education.

The poor relatives of "What and Why" are "Where," "When," and "How." So, where am I headed with this?

The first two are easy to engage with because they are deeply connected to our primal instincts. "What is this?" "Why is this happening?" We have constructed strong ideologies based on our interpretations of these answers, but that's a topic for another discussion.

I want to focus on "How?" Specifically, let's consider the case of massive layoffs impacting those who should answer the "How?" - designers, researchers, and content creators. They provide two "How?" explanations: one that explains human behaviour in a specific context and another that guides business initiatives.

The answer to the first "How?" forms the foundation of a strategy. This is how we determine the product. How can we add value? How can we deliver that value? How can we monetise that value? How will the market's response influence our future as an organisation? Do you see where I'm heading?

If you keep asking "How?" in a row, you'll reach a point where a visionary, investor, or business-oriented mindset falls short after the second iteration. Well, you don't have to ask many times. The second "How?" requires a unique blend of genuine curiosity, creativity, compassion, some specialised skills, and the willingness to be proven wrong. It's a vulnerable position that many are unwilling to embrace - a space where "What if?" is turned on its head and stretched to its limits. This second "How?" opens the door to true innovation.

This is where the real value is created, and it's the space many organisations are currently sacrificing, under siege by the current AI mirage and the eternal battlefield of internal politics.

When you eliminate the designer's mindset, you still must answer the "How?" but with less qualified perspectives. If you eliminate the designer mindset, there will be quiet meetings, comfortable answers, and a culture of complacency. And this is not the end. The real victims of the story are not the designers, who are merely casualties of senseless internal battles. The actual victims are the customers and, ultimately, the organisation itself. How do I know?

We've witnessed this pattern repeatedly. When a dictatorship takes over, innovation, progress, and well-being decrease. Those at the top will believe they have all the answers, and a distorted reality will become the norm within the organisation.

I know this sounds extreme, but here we are, witnessing a shift in organisations driven by growth at all costs. Yes, some of these layoffs may be necessary overcorrections for prior overhiring, which is a healthy process. However, the worrying aspect is the change in organisational culture, where Design as a function is pushed down the hierarchy—there's a clear message that says, "Do as you're told, or we'll find someone else to do it."

The battle for "How?" is real, and the designers appear to be losing. In many organisations, the C-suite wants to answer all the questions, disregarding the expertise of the people they hire. Some designers comply because they have mortgages to pay, while others are sacrificed for daring to challenge the answer to "How?"

How do we move forward from here? Well, that's a good question.

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