Musing #20: Who Not How

Oct 24, 2020 4 MIN

Musing #20: Who Not How

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

– Harry S Truman

I hope you are all doing well and staying safe. I’m taking a couple of days off work to spend time with the family. And I hope you get to do the same. Work-From-Home is brutal, and it is easy to forget to unwind. Anyway, today’s Musing was inspired by a book I chanced upon this week called “Who Not How” by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy(Quotes below are from the book unless mentioned otherwise)

The book’s simple but profound premise is that we can all expand our vision and purpose for life by one small shift in our approach to goals. Instead of asking the question, “How do I achieve this goal?” Start asking the more pertinent questions of “Who can help me achieve this?”

It sounds simple but not natural for most of us. Whenever we develop an idea or a goal, we start figuring out how to execute that idea/goal. Instead, if we can pause and ask “Who” can help me accomplish this, our results will be so much better. There are many benefits of taking this approach outlined in the book but want to highlight a few that stood out for me and probably applicable to many of us.

Asking “Who” expands your vision

The bigger the vision, the more you need Whos and not Hows.

I can imagine many of the founders nodding their heads on this. Most startup journeys start with one or two founders with an idea. The bigger the vision, the more people are needed to make it a reality. You might remember Bill Campbell (The Trillion Dollar Coach), whom we met while discussing teamwork.

“Bill didn’t work the problem first, he worked the team. We didn’t talk about the problem analytically. We talked about the people on the team and if they could get it done.” – Trillion Dollar Coach

It is essential to collaborate on your vision with the relevant set of “Whos.”

Collaboration immediately expands your Freedom of Purpose and vision because what you can do with others is exponentially more than what you can do yourself.

Asking “Who” frees up your time.

“Time is Money” – Benjamin Franklin

Most of us want to be successful, happy, and prosperous. A key to all this is “Time.” It is the only genuinely non-replenishable resource we have some level of control over. The key is to free up our time and focus our attention on the “Most High-Value Activities” that will move us along to achieve the real purpose and vision for our lives instead of wasting our time on the myriad of “Hows” that bog us down. It is super important to figure out which Decisions (the Hows) we need to be involved in and decide to let other “Whos” handle. Decision fatigue can make us less productive. A simple fact is that every time you add a “who” to take care of something for us, we are adding new skills to our skillset and freeing up precious time to use our unique gifts to increase our earning potential. Time is indeed, money.

Asking “Who” produces better results

Startups are all about results – the author calls this the “Results Economy.” As a founder or a startup leader, your focus needs to produce the best results from your team. You might remember the following quote from “Coaching Teams”:

“To be a great manager, you have to be a great coach. After all, the higher you climb, the more your success depends on making other people successful. By definition, that’s what coaches do.” – Trillion Dollar Coach.

Here’s a simple three-step recipe for making your teams perform at peak:

  • High goal clarity: As explicitly as possible, clarify “Why” the goal is essential and “What” specifically needs to be achieved.
  • High autonomy: Pick the task-relevant right “Who” for the goal. Leave the “Who” to figure out all the “Hows” on achieving the goal. It is critical not to micro-manage. The “Who” you work with might work with other “Whos” as well creating a powerful multiplier effect. The process does not matter as much as the results.
  • Regular feedback on results: Focus on the results and provide timely and radically candid feedback to achieve the results. Without this vital step, we cannot expect high-quality results.

Two things to avoid while taking the “Who not How” approach to achieving more extraordinary things in our lives:

Avoid Cost Mindset

It is super important to avoid thinking of “Whos” as a cost but instead think of them as an investment. Any investment that we make in a high quality “Who” to help us along in our journey to achieve our goals will help us achieve ten or even 100x in payback. Just think of that founder who spends equity hiring a top-notch engineer to help with the app development versus trying to do it all himself. If the app were to click and become a large company, it pays back a 100-fold. Most successful founders I have the pleasure of working with, realize this, and truly think of hiring “Whos” for specialist roles as investments.

Avoid being a Taker

To successfully use the “Who not How” approach, it is essential not to be a Taker but a Giver. Givers have an inherent advantage as a leader as we saw earlier. Every time we collaborate with a “Who” to move our vision forward, it is crucial for us to ask this simple question:

“What’s in it for them?”

While on this topic, might also be good to think about becoming a dependable “Who” for others in our lives.


The critical question to ask is, “How can I make them a Hero.” This podcast from Master’s of Scale expounds on this topic in great detail. How can you make your team and every “Who” you work with become the Hero of their own story – if we can do this well, we will be super successful in our own lives.

To Ponder

Think of the “Whos” that can make a big difference to your specific journey. If you are a founder early in your journey, picking the right co-founder and early team members is a pivotal “Who” decision. Another such decision is partnering with the right investor. These are all decisions that can make or break your company. Have you done your due diligence and reference checks before making these calls?

There are many more great insights in this short but impactful book – “Who not How.” I hope you get to read it yourself and listen in audible (has some great commentary chapters from Dan Sullivan).

Closing this Musing, hoping that each of us adopts this “Who not How” approach to expand our vision and purpose. I hope we find the perfect “Whos” we can partner with in various walks of our lives and endeavor to make them true Heroes in their own stories as we strive for greatness in our lives!

(Reminder: No Musings next week since it’s the 5th week of the month. See you next month)