WHY YOU SHOULD ASK WHY?
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there - Lewis Carroll
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 –
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 aiming for.
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
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
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
• John wanted excitement and didn’t think about the longer term view.
• 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
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
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 clear?
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
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