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So What?

, | May 21, 2024

by MOR Associates

Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Mike Sullivan, MOR Associates Program Leader and Leadership Coach.  Mike may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

“So what?”—a simple phrase, yet depending on the context, it can convey a broad spectrum of meanings. It can express skepticism about the presented information, signal dismissiveness, or even reflect a stance of defiance.

This phrase also serves as an invitation for deeper investigation.

When we embrace thorough exploration in our projects, we significantly improve our chances of enhancing stakeholder engagement, maximizing organizational resources, mitigating risks, selecting technology that meets current needs, remaining adaptable for the future, driving innovation, and expanding our knowledge base.

The narrative below illustrates how the phrase “So what?” can be used repeatedly to unearth the essential value of a project—its distinct benefits and outcomes. Employing this approach increases the likelihood of identifying the relevance of each feature, function, or aspect of a project. It challenges us to substantiate the need for a project based on robust strategic foundations. It encourages deeper understanding, knowledge, and stakeholder involvement. This method keeps everyone focused on the specific benefits and outcomes of the project—ensuring that we stay on track to deliver strategically impactful results for our organization.

The Intelligent Assistant Initiative

Chapter 1: The Pitch

Alex, the Director of Technology at Grandview University, had dedicated months to researching the potential of artificial intelligence to enhance teaching and learning. Convinced of its benefits, Alex proposed introducing AI-powered tutors and teaching assistants across campus, aiming to personalize and enrich the educational experience. Alex confidently entered the meeting room with the university budget committee.

“Good morning,” Alex began, activating the presentation’s first slide. “Today, I’m here to propose the deployment of AI-powered teaching assistants that can offer personalized tutoring and administrative support to our students and faculty.”

Morgan Avery, the chair of the committee, looked up from their notes, their expression inquisitive. “So what? How do these AI assistants differ from our current tutoring programs?”

Chapter 2: The First “So What?”

Prepared for skepticism, Alex responded enthusiastically. “Unlike our current program, which relies heavily on human resources and has limited availability, AI tutors can provide 24/7 support. They are programmed to adapt to individual learning styles and pace, offering a custom-tailored educational experience for each student.”

Chapter 3: The Second “So What?”

Morgan nodded slightly but pressed on, “So what? Why is this round-the-clock availability so crucial?”

“Today’s students often juggle studies with part-time jobs and family commitments, making traditional tutoring hours restrictive,” Alex explained. “AI assistants ensure that every student has access to help whenever needed, thereby likely improving our overall academic success rates. In addition, they provide flexibility, which is a critical support factor for student wellness.”

Chapter 4: The Third “So What?”

“So what?” Morgan questioned further. “How does this impact our academic integrity and quality of education?”

Alex confidently answered, “AI-powered assistants provide guidance that encourages critical thinking without giving away answers. They use sophisticated algorithms to propose problems and hint at solutions, enhancing learning outcomes without compromising academic integrity.”

Chapter 5: The Fourth “So What?”

Still unconvinced, Morgan asked, “So what? How do we measure the success of such a tool in our educational environment?”

“We will implement comprehensive tracking and analytics to monitor student progress and engagement,” Alex detailed. “By comparing cohorts using AI assistance with those who do not, we can measure improvements in grades, retention rates, and student satisfaction.”

Chapter 6: The Final “So What?”

“So what? What’s the bottom line impact of implementing these AI assistants?” Morgan looked directly at Alex, seeking a definitive answer.

Alex delivered the final pitch. “By implementing AI teaching assistants, we anticipate a 10% improvement in graduation rates, a 15% increase in student satisfaction, and a 20% reduction in dropout rates. Moreover, this technology positions Grandview as a leader in educational innovation, attracting more applicants and potential funding opportunities.”

Morgan leaned back, finally satisfied with the responses. “Thank you, Alex. You’ve made a compelling case. We’ll need to review the figures closely, but this sounds promising.”


Six months later, with the funding secured, the implementation of AI-powered teaching assistants at Grandview University was underway. The initial feedback was overwhelmingly positive, reinforcing the value of every “so what?” Alex had addressed. As the project unfolded, Alex’s thorough preparation and clear focus on the tangible benefits of the AI initiative proved crucial in transforming educational support at the university.

Reflection and Questions for Current Projects and Future Proposals:

  1. What is a project you’re working on or planning?
  2. What is the strategic impact of this project?
  3. What are the specific, objective outcomes for your project?
  4. What measures and metrics will you use to evaluate whether you meet those outcomes?
  5. Who will ‘own’ those measures and metrics so they’re inclined to focus on outcomes?
  6. How will you get alignment on those outcomes, measures, and metrics?

Using “So what?” effectively:

  1. Sharpens project proposals to foster deeper engagement and produce impactful outcomes for the organization.
  2. Emphasizes specific benefits and outcomes, clarifying the relevance of each project feature.
  3. Justifies the project need based on strategic factors, enhancing stakeholder engagement and alignment.
  4. Deepens understanding among the team and stakeholders, ensuring a sustainable focus on delivering strategically impactful results.

Last week we asked about the use of MOR shared language and common constructs with your organization.

  • 16% said they are used widely and have contributed to increased collaboration.
  • 33% said they are used within certain subsets where there has been increased collaboration.
  • 33% said they are only referred to on occasion by those who have participated in the MOR program.
  • 18% said they are not widely adopted.

A common toolset connects leaders and enhances collaboration. Congratulations to those who, to varying degrees, have been able to benefit from shared language and toolsets for increasing collaboration. Whether or not we have a strong foundation of shared leadership language and toolsets as a leadership community in our organizations, what is one step you might be able to take this week to increase that? How can you use the “so what?” approach described in this week’s article to help enlist support?