A Relevant Question: What’s In It For Me?

Mere utterance of the following five words, whether whispered or shouted, can force even the most compassionate person into a state of wonder and confusion:

What’s in it for me?

How someone could be so self-centered as to imagine the world actually revolves around them? Amazing.  

Viewed from a simplified perspective, we recognize the question is seeking a very genuine and healthy objective: Relevance.

Great Thinkers have been discussing the relevance of Relevance in society for centuries. For the sake of today’s discussion, we’ll clarify matters and establish that:

People make Choices that reflect what they Value; what they value is dependent on what they Need.

Not intended for scientific scrutiny, this working model aligns judgement and actions with a greater purpose. Understanding the holistic benefit of an endeavor empowers a sense of commitment, bringing greater depth to both Professional Performance and Personal Development.

A Crowded Cognitive Landscape

Be encouraged to take an occasional step back and ask “What’s in it for me?” Not from an ego perspective, but to weigh the ongoing balance between who you are, and why you do what you do.

Consider it periodic maintenance, a check on the benefit of your affiliation with the values of a group, project, or overall objective.

Disclaimer: Please refrain from making this an everyday occurrence. If requested to stock the display before going on break, do not counter with asking, “What’s in it for me?”

For leaders, embracing a relevant perspective accounts for the three main sources of behavior: Knowledge, Emotion, and Desire.

Recognize that if you want a piece of me, first appreciate my need to know why, so I can choose to devote attention and awareness to the situation at hand. Otherwise, it becomes part of an overcrowded cognitive landscape with little hope of retention or application.

Illustrate how the benefit of a new system, process, or approach relates to the needs and values of the team. Describe how my talents and skill fit the demand for performance execution.

Be transparent . . . this is a time of intention and authenticity. Knowing the value of a proposition or assignment in advance frees emotional space I’ll need to make great choices.

Clarity bridges empowerment with a sense of engagement, reflecting an enhanced desire to exceed the expected and generating new levels of performance achievement.

Who wouldn’t want that?

From the Minds of Babes

As is our nature, Learning Professionals have shortened “What’s in it for me?” to an acronym: WIIFM.

Most likely because another acronym will bring us one step closer to World Peace.

WIIFM is used throughout learning design (and delivery) as a constant reminder that information does not infer knowledge. Relevance is the key to retention, promoting application and inspiring growth . . . although it can take a child’s perspective to see the light.   

Tall Tim Tidbit: Picking up our younger son from school was a welcome afternoon break. Emerging from the gaggle of Second Grade cherubs, we buckled him into his booster seat and pulled away from the madness. I then asked, “What did you learn in school today?”

“I don’t know” was his response. Mind you, I could still see the school in the rearview mirror.

I pressed on for more information. “What did the teacher teach you today?”

“I don’t remember” he said, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. In the time it took to leave school, my son had completely forgotten everything his teacher worked so hard to teach him that day.

I chose another path. “What do you remember from school today?”

“Oh, at recess, while we were playing . . .”

Now I couldn’t get him to stop. He laughed as he described daily happenings from both morning and afternoon recess, and something about someone sitting on a sandwich during lunch.

It’s not uncommon for a child to lose interest in the classroom and have greater retention of social activities. The genius lies in the activities.

I was able to deduce that the class had indeed worked on math, simple 2 + 2 equations. Our son confirmed that the numbers were drawn on the chalkboard and copied onto their worksheets. When I asked if the teacher used anything to demonstrate this . . . Well, I first had to define what I meant by demonstrate.

Then my fears were confirmed: No.

A child may or may not possess the ability to apply logic necessary to make mathematics relevant. Using an activity, some sort of practical exercise involving building blocks or toys, simplifies learning so that it has tangible value. There is visual, verbal, and kinetic recognition to enhance retention and lead to continued application.

The episode started me wondering: How many of our employees go through the same process at the end of the day? Can you imagine a similar situation in reverse?

“Welcome home, Dad. What did you learn at work today?”

“I don’t remember.”

Share It, and They Will Come

A memorable application of asking “What’s in it for me?” is from one of my favorite Baseball movies . . . make that one of my favorite movies period: Field of Dreams.

“Whoa, wait a minute, Tall Tim, it’s the beginning of February and you’re already bringing in baseball movies. What gives?”

WIIFM In Action: You’re wondering what value a reference to baseball has in your current state, and what need exists for you to continue reading. You have a choice, right?

What if I share upfront that baseball is merely a background for the story? That while tangible aspects of an experience may be confusing or unclear, believing in a higher purpose leads to the ultimate benefit.

Knowing that . . . you in?

Field of Dreams is the delightfully complex story of Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who follows guidance from a mysterious voice and mows down part of his corn crop to build a baseball field. After the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson appears, Ray begins a cross country odyssey, collecting the characters of Terrance Mann and Moonlight Graham along the way, who all return to Iowa and the place “where dreams come true”.  

In our scene, players are finished for the day, and Shoeless Joe invites Terrance Mann to return to the corn with the other ghost players. This doesn’t sit well with Ray, who feels that since the players are guests in his corn, he should be allowed to see what is out there.

“But you’re not invited.” replies Shoeless Joe. This further infuriates Ray.

“I have done everything I’ve been asked to do. I didn’t understand it, but I’ve done it, and I haven’t once asked what’s in it for me?”

“What are you saying, Ray?”

“I’m saying, what’s in it for me?”

“Is that why you did this . . . for you?” Shoeless Joe asks. He then offers “I think you better stay here, Ray.”

“Why?” questions Ray.

The dialogue exquisitely exemplifies a level of patience required as you proceed through an experience.

If you truly believe in the higher purpose of an endeavor, that the overall objectives and vision align with what you value most, do not become distracted by events occurring on a short-term basis.

A similar situation happened to me when I applied for a Senior position within the Learning Organization, a natural progression in the hierarchy and one that would take me from Regional to National influence.

I had put in the time, done the work on a local level, and had supported members of the National Team on several occasions. The choice to pursue my Dream Job came with great confidence.

The cloud of expletives that formed after I wasn’t selected for the position can still be seen from space.

Like Ray in the Field of Dreams, I wasn’t invited and didn’t understand why. Similar to Shoeless Joe, my spirit guides didn’t bother answering my question . . . life played out so the lesson would have as much personal impact as possible.

The position I coveted evolved into one which required 90% travel, sending Learning Teams on the road for weeks at a time. I would have missed one son’s entry into college, and the other’s high school experience altogether. Some travel fit with my personal plans, but that much would have resulted in an emotional nightmare, a continuous question whether the job was indeed worth the sacrifice.

I stayed on the Regional Level and dedicated myself to strengthening what I did best: engaging a workforce, inspiring each individual to realize their potential and achieve amazing results.

National influence would have to come later, at a more appropriate pace.

Your Field of Dreams

Phrasing an opportunity from the perspective of “What’s in it for me?” helps keep plans relevant to reality. Not recommended for use on daily tasks, weighing the benefit of an endeavor periodically will maintain alignment with personal objectives.

Our stories embrace a working model for relevance that reflects what you need, what you value most, and what choices you’ll make to accomplish your dreams.

As a leader, be proactive in your approach to reserve space amongst a crowded cognitive landscape and help bridge an emotional connection with a true sense of engagement.

Lastly, have patience as you grow and develop through an experience. What you perceive as a preferred action may not produce ideal results. Trust your spirit guides, even if they do appear from a corn field and play baseball. That may just be where “your dreams can come true.”

Thanks for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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