The Source of “Why” is Identity and Culture

“Hey – why’d you do that?!” Why’d you: buy the product, sign up for the service, make the trade, do the maintenance, have the procedure, etc. Our natural focus is on “that,” but the important trigger is “why.”Annie Duke links the reasons for “why” we make decisions to our identity and our culture. If we understand the innate human desire to belong to a group and follow a set of rules and values, we can solve for why people make the decisions they make.


Identity, who we are and who we want to be, has an individual and a group aspect. Personally, we like to feel special and respond to things that are “just for us.” Socially, we like to feel like we’re part of a group representing “people like us.” The famous peanut butter campaign, “Choosy moms choose Jiff,” makes an appeal to an individual trait (choosy moms) and a social group (moms collectively). Would we rather be one of the non-choosy moms who just pick any old peanut butter to feed our precious children? Genius. 


Culture, the rules and values we follow, also have an individual and group aspect. If identity is about being, culture is about doing. The individual mom chooses Jiff because that’s what choosy moms do.  Socially, moms that are choosy see themselves as different from moms that aren’t. It’s a classic case of us vs. them over peanut butter and parenting. 


Whenever we’re offering our professional advice or guidance to a person, we should remember how it fits into their personal and social identity and culture. The easier it is for a person to understand how “people like us do things like this,” the easier it will be for them to grasp why they should be doing something.


Whether it’s a doctor explaining why some medicine is best, or a financial planner explaining why a contribution to this type of retirement account best suits one’s goals, we should frame our offering in a way that’s aware of the client’s why. It may not be as catchy as “choosy moms choose Jiff,” but it should be made from the same framework.


Yes, this is another note drawing from an Annie Duke interview (this time with Patrick O’Shaughnessy) and her book, “Thinking in Bets.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *