Why ‘why’

I was reminded recently of the importance of ‘why’.  It is a word that gets a bad reputation. Everyone is familiar with the image of a child that repeatedly asks why to everything the parent says. As a parent, I can verify this does happen, just like on television.

Credit: Eric CC BY-ND

Why is the reason.  Sometimes the reason for a decision is more important than the outcome.  Circumstances change, and the reasons that may have been valid may no longer apply.  If you explain the reasoning behind a decision, you not only provide an answer that is valid for a time but provides a way of coming up with the valid answer in the future as well.

I once recommended a customer use a particular platform, then about a year later I discovered they had implemented on a completely different platform.  I still count that as a success, because I also set out my reasoning for the recommendation.  The advantages of the original platform were no longer applicable when they could finally select the platform – the customer followed the ‘why’ and ended up with a success.

Why is also the cause.  Why did something happen?  Keep asking why, going deeper, exploring the underlying causes for the events that trigger other events.  Keep asking until you cannot go any deeper, then ask why once more.  It isn’t enough to say ‘X’ happened because of ‘Y, why was ‘Y’ allowed to happen in the first place?  What decisions, processes and structures failed that allowed the chain of causality to start.  This is similar to ‘5 Whys’ analysis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys).  I need to point out that the ultimate cause is never a person.  No matter how incompetent or corrupt an individual is, you can always ask why they were in a position to cause a problem.

Finally, there is why as in purpose.  Why do you do this?  What does it achieve, and why don’t we do it differently to achieve the same result faster, cheaper or more reliable.  If you don’t understand why your organisation needs to complete a task  or follow a process, how can you be sure you add value. Ultimately the ‘why’ you are doing a job is part of the ‘why does this organisation exist’.

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