Dad: It’s time to get ready for bed.
Dad: Because it’s your bed time.
Dad: Because you need to sleep so you can be wide awake for tomorrow.
Dad: Because if you are tired, you won’t have fun at the zoo.
Dad: Because you will fall asleep while we’re there.
Dad: Because I said so!
The conversation above will be familiar to any parent. My daughter just turned three and she must be very inquisitive because she always asks, “Why?” Okay, while I believe she is brilliant, her questioning ways are no different from any other three-year old.
We like to think we are responsible adults and have outgrown those childish ways. You don’t scream when you get water to drink instead of milk. You don’t pout when you get vegetables on your dinner plate. You don’t throw a tantrum when you’re told no. So, naturally, you don’t always ask “Why?”
Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. What did Jesus mean by this? He meant that unless we truly have innocent hearts and minds like children, we would never see his kingdom.
We should have innocent minds and open hearts like children too. Innocence and open-mindedness are traits of a person who would ask “Why?” Why is a powerful word if for no other reason because it leads to answers.
It has been said that you should ask “Why?” five times to get to the root cause or meaning. Every problem is like an onion in that there are many levels to peel back before you get to the core. It may hurt your senses to peel each layer but if you can make it through, you will get to the center.
Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, says that asking why five times cuts to the quick of a problem. This is also a technique used in Six Sigma process improvement system.
How often do you ask why something is done the way it is? Do you find in business that something is done but no one knows why. No one has ever turned on the brainpower to find out why it is done. People just do it.
A story is told of a teenager who is helping her mother cook a Thanksgiving turkey. The mother cuts off the end of the turkey before she puts it in the oven. The inquisitive teen asks her mother why she cut the end off the turkey.
The mother says, “I don’t know. That is the way Grandma did it.”
The daughter then calls Grandma and asks why she cuts the end off of the turkey. Grandma answers with, “I don’t know. That’s how my mother taught me to do it.”
The granddaughter then calls her Great-Grandmother and asks her the same question. “I don’t know,” answers Great-Grandmother, “that’s the way my mother did it.”
Being a very healthy and young family, the great-granddaughter then calls her Great-Great-Grandma. “Well, sweetie,” pausing to think back to her younger days, “I had to cut the end off of the turkey because it was too big to fit in the oven.”
For the next three generations, the end of a turkey was wasted on Thanksgiving. The reason: No one asked “Why?”
It’s worth your time and energy to look at what you do every day. If you don’t know why you do something, ask the simple “Why?” question. You will be amazed at what you do that you could be doing more efficiently or not even doing at all.
I’ve seen many processes in my clients over the years that fit this criteria. Items are manually tracked even though a report can be printed from the system with the same information. A spreadsheet is maintained but no one ever looks at it. So much time was wasted.
Asking the following questions will help you identify those areas in which you should start asking why something is done:
1. Does anyone look at what you are doing?
2. Is the same data on the system?
3. Can something be automated?
4. How long has the process been in place?
5. Does someone think it’s a waste of time?
You can see the benefit of asking these questions. It’s pretty clear as to the reasons why these are good questions. Then, ask “Why?” Then ask it again, and again, and again and again. Keep asking “Why?” until you get to the root cause.
Use the why questions in every aspect of your life. Ask those questions at home, at work, at the gym, while you drive, etc. Become a three-year old. Please though, don’t be the annoying three-year old. I guarantee you’re not as cute as my three-year old daughter.
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