How is Not an Adverb

Dov Seidman: My fundamental idea is that how is not an adverb.  It’s not a tactic. 

As leaders we need to take responsibility for language.  You know, the word "how" has been cheapened, if not denigrated over the years because we’ve used it as an adverb.  "How’s it going, buddy?" "How are you?"  "How do I get from here to there?"  It’s a tactic.  It’s a means to an end. 


"How do I get from here to there?"  And we count with how.  "How much revenue?"  "How much market share do we need?" "How much profit?"  "How many friends?"  "How many followers?" "How many likes?"

We think how is an adverb.  And an adverb is window dressing that qualifies a noun.  We like nouns.  So I came along and I said, “How.  What if it were a noun.  It’s the how that makes the difference.  Let’s get our how’s right.  That’s a how guy.   That’s a how company.”  Because if how is a noun, a thing, an ethic of human endeavor, a platform for innovation, a lens through which we look at how we do what we do.  If it’s a thing, we’re gonna want this thing, we’re gonna scale this thing, we’re gonna excel at this thing. 

So my fundamental idea is that how is not an adverb.  It’s not a tactic.  It’s really a thing, a whole ethic of leadership and of human endeavor.  And instead of seeing how as just a question – how much and how many?  What if how were the answer.  If how were the answer, we’d try to get a good answer and scale that answer. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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