Why – Why – Why?
Most of us as children have frustrated a parent or other adult by asking a seemingly endless series of “why” questions.
“Why is the sky blue?”
“Because the molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter other colors.”
“Why does the air not scatter other colors?”
“It has to do with the wave length of the colors?”
“Why do colors have different wave lengths?”
“I don’t know – stop asking so many questions.”
End of conversation.
Let’s be honest: We just aren’t that knowledgeable about anything to run a topic to ground. Even Nobel laureates will run out of gas eventually so we hush our children and move onto other things.
But asking why shouldn’t be discouraged in adulthood. Far too often in business a new approach is taken with little more original thought than selecting which TV show to watch. Sometimes we make business moves because another company has done so. If their situation is similar and their results are positive such moves are to be encouraged. But too often the situations are only superficially similar.
Years ago I heard a story about a city with a serious crime problem. The city council installed street lights in the problem area of the town and the crime rate significantly reduced. Another city, seeing that success and having about the same size population decided to do the same and spent many thousands of dollars on street lights only to see no change in the crime rate.
Had someone asked “why” they may have learned that most of those crimes in the second city were occurring during daylight hours. Street lights could not be the solution.
Consultants have a nasty habit of “borrowing” ideas from one client and passing them off to the next client as a successful strategy for the problem du jour. Too few managers ask why. Worse still is the manager who fails to solicit input from those in the trenches who really know whether something will work before implementing the next new thing.
As a manager or non-supervisory employee the “whys” should be asked. Even as frustrating and tedious as the sequential answers might be they can save time, money and prevent unnecessary tension within your team.
And here’s a tip: The next time a “why” is answered with an “I don’t know,” it’s time to reevaluate the plan.
Tim Sharp is the Chief of Curriculum for TSOD.com and is a Lecturer at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.