Startup 101: Explaining Your Why

Innovators spend time with kids aged four to six.

They must.

Four to six year-olds ask “why?”

Studies show that  great advances in the world are driven by the question “why.” Progress is not achieved by people who can say what they are doing, but rather by people who can express why they are doing it. 

Well, Why?

As my kids asked me when we first launched Solar Ship in the old barn at my brother’s farm: why? In his case, the four-year-old wanted to know why the technology was important. He wanted to know why it was needed. The six-year-old wanted to know why he had to serve coffee and donuts to the engineering team in a barn full of raccoon poo. Why couldn’t we take the whole thing outside?

Both good questions. To the second question, I told the six-year-old that the wing we had in the barn – our MAZAVA ship – had the capacity for enormous lift. If we assembled it outside, it might pick the whole team up and carry them away. Wow – that was impressive to the four and  six-year-old. And it was impressive. Lift. This thing gets a lot of lift.

10m (low res)

Solar Ship’s MAZAVA ship

Why Lift?

So why was this lift needed? I told the four-year-old that his great grandfather, known as “GH,” owned an aircraft company that serviced northern Canada. I had grown up with stories of servicing remote areas and of the challenges faced by northern communities. We have no year-round roads in 85% of our country, so bush planes become the only way to deliver cargo. The problem for the pilots servicing these northern remote areas is lack of lift. This new buoyant wing gets huge lift. I explained that if we wanted to move two tonnes of Christmas presents from Toronto to LA, where his cousin lives, it would be 200 times cheaper than moving the same presents to his other cousin who lives 600 km north of Thunder Bay. That’s our north.

Getting Unreasonable

What if we wanted to ship the same presents to their friend Sam’s cousins in Burundi? It would cost 1000 times more than if those same presents were shipped from China to Toronto. What if you had an upset stomach and were throwing up and the cure was in Burundi and Sam’s cousins wanted to ship you the medicine?

Well, to the six-year-old this seemed bad. Unreasonable? I asked.

The four-year-old was frowny and grim, as he had gone through a terrible flu season, puking and fever and upset stomach.  The six-year-old was in no mood to have his brother cut off from the meds.

Unreasonable? So what do we do when there is a problem and all the reasonable people accept it? The six-year-old thought hard. The four-year-old frowned hard.

“If reasonable people let my brother puke then I need to get unreasonable.”