WHY YOU SHOULD ASK WHY?
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there - Lewis
It doesn’t matter whether I’m working with Entrepreneurs,
Executives or Business Owners the question WHY always comes
up at some stage. The context normally arises when we begin to
look at what drives the individual or company to do what they do,
or don’t do. Without knowing WHY you do, or don’t do something
can have disastrous results, yet the situation can be easily
resolved by using such a small but powerful word – WHY.
To get to the root of the reason of using WHY I want to explore
what WHY means.
DEFINITION OF WHY
Encarta defines it as:
“An adverb used to ask or talk about the reason, purpose, or
cause of something.”
“A request for an evidential reason.”
Chambers English Dictionary
“For what cause or reason, on which account?”
For me the key aspect of WHY is in the reason something is done,
or not done. Why? I’d like to answer by sharing an example of
some client work (whilst the work is real I’ve changed the names
and type of business).
John and Janet set up a limited company within the property
management sector. They had discussed and agreed the Director
roles they would cover before they set up the company and
decided what area they wanted to cover. These decisions in
themselves were unusual as in the vast majority of cases they
either happen by accident or as a result of later thought!
They started work and the company began to grow quickly. Within
the first year they had a number of properties across the region as
well as a number in out-lying areas. As they moved into the second
year a number of issues began to arise: one partner was fast
acting and took very quick decisions, whilst the other took longer
and spent more time thinking about what needed to be done;
planning was haphazard and poorly focused; both partners were
spending more time travelling as they took on more properties in
other areas; communications deteriorated. By the time I became
involved they were consistently struggling to manage.
THE OUTCOME OF WHY?
After assessing the business plan and completing some initial team
role and individual profiles I asked them separately WHY they had
set up the business. The couple thought they had the same
reasons but after discussion we found that they were significantly
different. As we explored the reasons in more depth we found that
the effort and passion they had put into the work was consistent
but they had a very different view of the destination they were
John wanted to build the company up quickly and sell on at a profit
because he wanted to invest in something else within 5 years. This
was why he took quick decisions and had begun to take on
properties out with the agreed area. Janet on the other hand had a
different view. She wanted to build the company up into a quality
branded name which they could then hand over to a Managing
Director and take a back step and enjoy the income.
Both people were working hard but they were heading in a
completely different direction. It was only by asking the question
WHY that we discovered the reasons for those differences.
However, there was more to come. By using a Cascade of WHYs
we got to understand the real reason s WHY John and Janet were
doing what they were doing, or not.
The Cascade of WHYs is easy to use. After each answer you ask
the question WHY? Continue the process until you reach a point
where the answer remains the same.
In John and Janet’s situation we found that the initial answers
were similar – both wanted the company to make profit. Asking
WHY profit? led us to the next level that began to show the
differences between the couple. John wanted profit so he could
invest in a range of businesses each being bigger and bigger, and
all in different sectors. Janet, however, wanted profit so that they
could expand the present business and create a legacy.
Continued WHYs led us to identifying the underlying drivers, beliefs
and values of each person:
• John wanted excitement and didn’t think about the longer
• Janet wanted long term security and stability.
DRIVERS AND VALUES
We all have underlying values and beliefs that drive us to do want
we want, or don’t want. If these values and beliefs are in conflict,
and we’re not aware of them then difficulties arise. These
difficulties can include procrastination, poor decision making, poor
time management, poor communications with others, etc. If we
spend time understanding what they are and where they come
from then we can invest the time and energy in activities that will
lead us to where we really want to get to, and in a far shorter time
In John and Janet’s case, now that we could see the differences
between their relative positions we developed an action plan that
was based on an agreed understanding of where they wanted to
get to as well as an individualised plan.
The use of WHY is not restricted to individuals, it is as, if not more,
powerful when used in a company context.
The most important part of the definition of the word WHY is the
reason (or outcome) of the action.
Without knowing the reason for doing, or not doing something then
whatever you do may, or may not get you to where you want to
get to, that is, if you actually know where it is you want to get to. All
Using the WHY cascade technique will enable you to become very
clear on what drives you and how best to maximize your time and
effort in moving forward. It provides clarity of purpose and a very
specific focus on a future destination point for you (and/or the
Peter Mackechnie of Extreme Management Solutions has
worked with a wide range of successful businesses across
numerous business sectors in the development of effective
Visit www.exmt.co.uk or contact him now for more