How My Two-Year-Old Reminded Me of the Power of 'Why'
‘Why’ is a powerful question, but often we don’t take the time to ask it.
If you've ever had the opportunity to experience the joy that is a conversation with a two-year-old you know that it's a bit like traveling abroad and not knowing the local dialect. Sentences are broken at best, thoughts are reduced to single words and spoken louder each time as though it helps to make the point. And questions. There are always a LOT of questions. This is how a typical conversation goes with my daughter:
Caroline: "Where'd the moon go?"
Me: "It's not out right now, Honey. It's daytime."
Me: "Because the sun is up right now. You can't see the moon when the sun is out."
C: "The sun is out?"
Me: "Well, the sun comes up because we need sunlight so we can see and so plants can grow."
Me: "Because plants use sunlight to make their food."
And it goes on and on. It was during one of these exchanges that I was reminded of the power of Why. It is among the most powerful words in our vocabulary. It is the machete to a jungle of information. Think I'm overstating it? Take a look back at that conversation. In just a few iterations, she was able to get at least some understanding of how the sun and moon interact, what the sun does and how it relates to the world around us.
Here's why I think Why is so powerful:
It gets to the heart of the matter.
This seems pretty straightforward. The more you ask why, the better your understanding of the root cause of an issue. It helps you move quickly to where the true pain lies and can give you hints along the way as to how you can improve. The trick is having the strength to ask the question; continuously and proactively. It won't always be fun. You may not like the answer. But it is necessary to have a grasp of what you or your organization is really made of and where the largest growth opportunities lie.
It requires an understanding of relationships.
If we are going to answer the question why properly we must either know or be able to learn about how our subject relates to the things around it. It's more than just knowing that a connection exists, it's understanding the nature of that connection. How strong is it? What makes it weaker or stronger? Why is it there in the first place? It's not good enough to know your customers’ demographics; you must know what they experience as their relationship with you matures.
It begs for discernment.
Generally speaking, you can observe "what,” "when,” "where" and "who". Why can be a little trickier. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't. During this past NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament I was reading the back and forth between friends on Facebook over a picture one friend posted of her child in a Duke University t-shirt. A few jabs were thrown out in the comments as to why she would put her daughter in such a terrible shirt (because who doesn't hate Duke, really?) Her response was simple. "Sorry guys, Duke is here to stay for me. After all they did for my brother the last year of his life, they will always have a special place in my heart." You couldn't see the why, but when it was uncovered it changed the conversation.
As adults, we often have expectations of ourselves to not have to ask the question “Why?” We hesitate to show that sort of vulnerability. My daughter and every other two-year-old out there don't have the same hang-ups, and we should let them be an example for us. They want to know something and they put the question to work. How can you put why to work in your life?