It’s a phrase I picked up a long time ago from Tim Ferriss and it has stuck. What you do is much more important than how you do it. More and more I notice lots of organisational energy being spent tweaking how something is done rather than addressing what needs to be done. Here are some ways that it is showing up for me at the moment.

Looking for technology to save us from climate breakdown. Humans seem intent on developing ever more complicated systems to enable us to carry on consuming the way we do – in other words, tweaking how we live now – rather than answering some fundamental questions about what it means to be happy and what to do differently (eat less meat, buy less rubbish, burn less fossil fuels, spend more time outdoors).

Complicated management systems. I see so much energy getting wasted in optimising inefficient management systems (how systems) rather than focusing on what the organisation is supposed to be doing (what systems). Of course the ‘how’ bit is important but only after you’ve got the ‘what’ bit. Nail it before you scale it.

Time management systems. Too much time trying to squeeze in tasks that you shouldn’t really be doing in the first place. Work out what the most important things are, and then you should have enough time.

In all these instances, the what question is the most fundamental, and often the most difficult to take. But what I have found is the more of these what decisions you take, the easier they become because you can see more of the upside – the benefits of making the decision – and these outshine the downside – the difficulty of making the call.

As an afterword, I notice that my Margherita Principle is concerned with what rather than how. The what decision here is that I want a pizza and the how is what topping do I get. If this means nothing to you then read more below.