Getting There With “Why?”

A recent article in Fast Company, the innovative business magazine, got me thinking about the question “WHY?”

Anyone who has ever spent time with a pre-schooler can tell you two things about the single word question “WHY?” — it is both very effective and highly irritating.

“Why is the sky blue?”

“Well, because the oceans are reflecting the blue up to the sky.”


Hmmm, two “whys” and if you’re like me, you’re likely stumped.

And, you’re likely also thinking more deeply about something you’ve previously taken for granted.

That inherent curiosity of a pre-schooler, combined with some diplomacy and emotional intelligence in asking “why” can lead to some deeper thinking in your workplace too.

I want to talk about getting there with ‘Why?”.

Imagine you are CEO of this company and a young exec on your team comes to your office…

Him: “We need to have a presence on Facebook”
You: “Hmmm, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Why should we be on Facebook?”
Him: “Because all of our competitors are on Facebook.”
You: “That’s a good point, a lot of them are. Why are they on Facebook?”
Him: “Because they want to position themselves as forward looking and youthful.”
You: “Ahh, yes, that could be true. Why do they want to position themselves that way?”
Him: “Because they want to make more money with young people.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

A final “why” might be in order “ah ok, you might have something there.

Why do we want to make more money from young people?”

The answer may be obvious, or it might not.

Asking why will help you get there quickly and will help you decide if Facebook really is the obvious answer.

At this point you’ve achieved a couple of things in a very short time — you’ve taken the conversation far deeper than it started; you’ve inspired the young exec to identify the challenge, not just the solution and you’ve demonstrated a keen interest in his work.

Thought for the day: Are there moments in your workday when you could try “Why?” with colleagues and staff?

Asking questions like “Why” is one of the techniques coaches use to help executives and senior leaders advance their ideas. Stay tuned for our next blog on taking this concept to the next level — using curiosity to bring a coach-approach to your leadership.

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