From What to Why to What

Note: In an effort to not be late this week, I’m publishing my initial thoughts (almost) on time. I look forward to reflecting more on these initial thoughts in light of your feedback and the clarity that time often brings. 

It felt good to write last week’s post. It forced me to think about my goals, articulate them, and think about a plan of action for bringing them to life. Finally, I had to wrangle ideas that had been floating around in my mind for months and try to make sense of them!

In response to my post, I was presented with questions that really gave me pause:

“What type of energy company would you like to start? Is this a company that generates power, manufactures infrastructure for clean energy projects, etc.? Sky’s the limit, so what feels right?” (Thanks, Ale 😉

My answer then, and even now is, “I don’t know”.

I went into the Incubator with the idea in mind that I wanted to start an energy company to model good practice in the energy industry. But, to be honest, the idea of starting an energy company is big, intimidating, and procrastination-provoking for me. I don’t have a background in the energy sector or business; right now, I’m not even in a position to say what’s feasible in terms of starting the business.

But today’s reading from the alternative prompt ” What is it for” helped shift my focus from my daunting, nebulous “what” to a new way to think about my “why”. This in turn, has helped me move a step closer to determining what my what should look like.

In “Who-and What- Will Customer’s Become”, Michael Schrage posits that innovative companies are those that have a vision of the customers it wants to create. Rather than focusing on simply marketing its products to people who may need or want them,  an innovative company asks how its products will rebrand or reposition its customers.

This means shifting focus from asking how a company can meet the needs of customers today with its products to how a company can create the customer it wants to meet the needs of in the future.

Schrage points to Apple as an example of an innovative company. He talks about how Apple, driven by Steve Jobs’ passion for design and quality, became a company that focused on creating customers that share that passion. They set a bar that customers adopted as their own.

It’s interesting to me that Apple places so much emphasis on design aesthetic and technological innovation while placing so little emphasis on ensuring that the supply chain for its products reflects a commitment to ethical (by Western standards) labor practices, environmental stewardship, or investing profits in communities where people make and/or purchase Apple products.

Anyway, I realized by reading the article that I, too, have a bar that I’m looking to set for customers to adopt. This brings me back to my why. My customer feels good about themselves when they demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship, investment in communities that they serve, and creating quality jobs for local people. They are critical of Big Industry and want to be a part of shifting resources towards local enterprise and are conscious of their impact in the world.

I still have some work to do to drill down on the company’s customer even further. I’m hopeful that the exercise will lead me to a better understanding of whether the customer is a company (i.e. figuring out how this company could intersect with existing supply chains) or a community (i.e. figuring out how this company could generate power for businesses and or people).

RS: Am I cut out for this? Am I really committed to this?





Author: Janai G.

There's something in me that makes me want to share my experiences and reflections with others. I write and I podcast because those are currently the tools of expression at my disposal. If there ever comes a day when I can channel my thoughts and feelings through art, music or something else, you'll see it on this blog, too.

4 thoughts on “From What to Why to What”

  1. Thanks for this, Janai! Glad you shared (does not seem half-baked to me!)!

    I’d love to learn more about your why for YOU, in addition to the why you shared for your future customer. What makes you excited to become an entrepreneur? What do you hope to find through starting a small business? What can you find there you don’t have access to in your current role?

    I’ve heard you share that working for social justice is important to you. How does your vision of entrepreneurship connect with the goal of achieving a more equitable city and world?

    The other line of questions that come up for me when I read this what business you’d like to get into. What problem in your life right now do you need to solve, but you can’t find a way to solve it? You’re an expert in that problem – you can find a business idea to solve it (assuming it’s something that can be solved with a market-based solution–that’s a big if!)! Do you have an energy need in your life right now that no one is solving? Or a food need? Or a clothing need? Or is there something you’d like to read about that no one is writing?!?! So many questions!


  2. Janai! Beautiful way of using the article you read to reflect on the why’s and the what’s! I loved the image you painted of a customer feeling good about themselves, and the behaviors or beliefs they could point to that earned them that pride. It led me to reflect on how beliefs are formed (or behaviors learned) in the first place. What, for instance, taught the customer that environmental stewardship is “good?” Does that imply access to education can help determine that? Can the customer reach that conclusion without ever having learned that natural resource depletion is a “negative” environmental impact? I think about this a lot in my own work, when I question why I feel so sure about what I believe, and what right I have to believe that. How much comes from the privilege of an education? From having moved around so much? From the compounded micro-experiences of an entire lifetime that drive me to be such a passionate advocate for our environment?
    I also loved how your potential definition of customer expanded to company and community, and avoids the concept of “consumer” (what I sensed you were describing as Apple’s targets, especially when they neglect other impacts of their operations). What inspires you to pursue your goal the most – the concept of changing a company (affecting an entire value chain), a community (affecting all the stakeholders within it), or something else?


  3. Janai – What does this reflection help you see about yourself?

    What does one next step look like for helping you start something that might be connected to your longer term bigger picture vision, but might be something you could do in the next 3 days?

    Thanks for this great post.


  4. Hi Janai!

    Thanks so much for this candid reflection.

    I loved the process of you exploring how to create the customer you want to see in the world. However, I would challenge you to go deeper on the customer you want to create and how you are actually one of them!

    Do the customers really just want to feel good about environmental stewardship or do they want to know they’re contributing to a deeper meaning and modeling what being a conscious consumer is?

    How does this play out in your life and your choices? How would you then bring that back to this work?

    Thanks again for this and onward!


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