Last week, I closed my thoughts and musings with a story about a stonecutter who had to spend some time away from his normal life before he could find a “why” behind what he was doing that was powerful enough to keep him going. I liked the story because it gave me a sense of closure to that post and resonated with what I was trying to say at the time. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, it has left me thinking about other “whys” in my life and work.

If you are unfamiliar with the phrase, “finding your why,” Simon Sinek writes about it in his work, Start with Why. I understand that we are all pressed for time, so if you’re too busy to read this blog post AND his book, you can watch his fifteen minute TED Talk here. And if you’re still on too tight of a clock, the basic idea is that leaders who focus on the bigger WHY behind something rather than getting stuck in the less impactful WHAT and HOW are the leaders who can inspire big changes and make lasting impacts. They are also the leaders who instill a sense of independence and agency in their organizations. Instilling these types of organizational identities creates a lasting impact, often one that survives long after the individual leader moves on. 

I recently started thinking about this idea of understanding the “why” behind institutional decisions that lead to powerful organizational identities after Nicole traveled to Los Angeles for a conference on dyslexia. On the way out, she flew on Southwest. I love Southwest. Lots of people get annoyed by its absence of assigned seating, but I love the egalitarian sense of the company and the way in which it always does exactly what it says it is going to do. 

Wanna get away? Fly Southwest. 

Want easily bookable flights? Fly Southwest. 

Willing to be flexible with times and dates to get some pretty cheap rates? Fly Southwest.

Traveling with a check-on? Fly Southwest – they always check your first bag for free. 

Bottom line, Southwest eliminates a lot of the bells and whistles that other airlines celebrate as their difference-makers but they also trim away all the other bloated costs that come along with the bells and whistles. I understand that sometimes those bells and whistles are nice, and Southwest does offer some upgrade options, at a price. But that price is always reasonable, and in the end, the boarding upgrade or extra drink token feels more like a worthwhile treat rather than a decadent indulgence. 

Pop Champagne GIFs | Tenor

Luckily for the sake of this blog post, but not luckily for Nicole, she flew United on the way home. Oh, United. Now that’s a legit airline. Big aircraft. Fancy lounges. Lots of bells and whistles. And you get what you pay for, right? Well, maybe not.

On the outbound trip, Nicole’s boss splurged for the “early check-in” on Southwest. For those unfamiliar with that upgrade feature, it means you get to be one of the first few people on the plane. As they boarded, they got to select the prime seats at the front with the extra leg room and only two seats across. The cost was less than $100 for both of them, but the payout was pretty solid since Nicole and her boss wanted to sit together and have the freedom of talking on the flight.

Coming home, United offered a handful of similar upgrade offers. The tickets themselves were about the same price as Southwest’s but to upgrade to “economy-plus” would have cost $150 per person. The seats would have been the EXACT SAME SEATS, but Nicole and her boss simply would have boarded early. Awesome, come sit on the smelly plane longer than everyone else for an extra $150. If you actually want a better seat, that’s another $150. And on top of that, they charge for all checked luggage. 

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Southwest doesn’t serve food. They serve snacks. And they’re small. And funny. And they’re always free. And you can take more than one…they suggest you do so because they jokingly admit that they are small and that you deserve more than one. Have a nice flight. We’re glad you’re here.

Flight Attendant Gif GIFs | Tenor

United – same snacks were $5. The food that they graciously did serve was extremely expensive and gross. And most of it was sold out by the time they got to the back rows. Why are you still on this plane? When are you getting off? How can we fleece you for more money?

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I didn’t mean for this to be a Consumer Report-style comparison of Southwest and United to help you decide which airline to fly next time you are going on vacation.  Instead, I wanted to offer some background about how it got me thinking that United as a company has absolutely no idea WHY it is doing the things it is doing.

On the other hand, Southwest has a clear understanding of who they are. They always have. They fly people to where they need to go. No more. No less. They do it as efficiently, seamlessly, and painlessly as they know how. So something like the upgraded boarding option makes sense. It fits within its larger organizational identity of not assigning seats. Therefore, to offer early boarding as an upgrade truly is an upgrade and it’s worth paying for. On United, it just feels like another dip into my pocket for an already frustratingly sub-par service.

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If you asked the gate attendant at United why you should upgrade, I’d be surprised if he could give you a valid reason. You are just another dollar sign in his eyes and another annoyance.

Flight attendants tie their hands behind their back always, why?

But at Southwest, the attendant can smile and tell you that with that upgrade, you’ll get your pick of the best seat on the plane. And they’re happy for you when you buy it. I’m not being overly dramatic when I say you can hear it in their voices.

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During my time in the Navy, our “whys” were often given to us in the form of a mission statement from higher authority. Our job was to unpack that mission statement so that we understood every aspect of the “why” before we started planning and executing the smaller what and how of accomplishing the mission. I got pretty good at that process.

But what happens when there is no higher headquarters? What happens when it’s just me and my bro in the box? Well, that can sometimes mean trouble, especially when you have two rather excitable dudes who often like to say yes to way too much. So, over the next few weeks, I thought it might be fun for me to explore the “why” behind a handful of things I noticed that we do in and around the box. 

It’s always worth remembering that we are just a CrossFit gym. We offer hour-long classes of functional fitness in a safe, relatively small group environment. We sweat together. We suffer together. Sometimes we cry together. But in the end, we always hopefully  laugh together in our pursuit of improved fitness. The simplicity of that prescription has a uniquely potent ability to elicit some interesting secondary and tertiary emotional, psycho-social results outside of improved work capacity across broad time and modal domains. I think perhaps this can often cause a healthy confusion about what and how we should do business. So asking questions about our bigger “why” can be helpful and maybe a little fun.

Moving forward, I’m open for questions/suggestions about what to explore, but if I don’t get any, I’ve got a couple of things rolling around in my head.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the box.

-Coach Jack