What’s the most valuable questing one can ask? Yes, it’s not this question. It might very well be the ‘Why?’ question. Why? Because seeking its answer will provide true insight. And insight makes us grow and brings us further (in our professional domain, in life, in our existence, …). One might argue that answers to the ‘How?’ question, which is the current dominant scientific question, provides some kind of insight as well. And this is true.
How does it work? How do things relate? How do I feel?
However, answers to ‘How?’ questions only lets us look at the present and basically lets us stand still. Questions like ‘How can we improve this?’ can only be answered by considering ‘Why do we need to improve this?’ first. The answers to ‘Why?’ questions make us reconsider the present and drive us to consider change and improvement. In business they will define the business case for your projects.
Why must it work this way? Why do things relate this way? Why do I feel this way?
Children of any generation go through a natural phase in which they bombard the world arround them and especially their parents with ‘Why?’ questions. At first parents are pleased by the sudden interest of their child in the world arround them and try to answer the questions, soon finding out that every answer to a Why? question is followed by a new Why? question. In the end many parents either ignore the questions or kill the initiative with the ‘Because this is how it is’ or any other lousy answer. Basically they teach their children not to ask these Why? questions. And yes, with age children and grownups tend to be more reluctant to ask Why? questions and questions in general.
Management guru Eliyahu M. Goldratt wrote an interestion article about empowerment within organizations and related to that, the importance of the Why? question (http://www.goldratt.com/empower.htm). One of the two basic principles for empowerment in organizations (next to matching perceived authority to responsibility) according to Goldratt is that managers should sufficiently explain the Why behind their requests to the people they manage. This will enable them to understand the reasoning behind the request and to contribute beyond purely carrying it out (for example by suggestion an alternative). Of course this does not only apply to the ones we manage, but also to any other people we need to get things done. Goldratt also argues that explaining Why? will shorten learning curves. Often we only ask ourselves why we did things when they went wrong. If we know why we do things before we do them, we can learn from them without making a mistake first.
We might wonder why managers need to remind themselves to explain us why we need to do things? The answer is very simple: Because apparently we do not ask the question ourselves! Now that we understand the importance of the Why? Question, we can of course easily fix this…