“Why? Why? Why?” If you’ve ever known a toddler, you are familiar with the unending, one-word diatribe: Why.
Why do they ask “why,” though? I assure you it is not out of a desire to annoy you (at least, most of the time). It is because they are curious little knowledge sponges who honestly want a better understanding of the world they have been plopped into. Since most of us would agree that acquiring knowledge is good, why do we not use the word “why” more frequently as adults, as business professionals, or as friends? Perhaps it’s because we have been too traumatized by our toddlers, or maybe because we worry that others may not think we respect them. Or worse, we might come across as dunces and lose our credibility.
Another view of this “why” dilemma has to do with the fact that we just feel too busy to deal with the ramifications that come with the word. Understanding why can be a Pandora’s box of false trails and too much (or too little) information. We often think, “I don’t have time to understand the issue! I just want it fixed so I can get on with my day!” In this day and age we are all overloaded and don’t have time to waste...or do we? How frequently do you find yourself dealing with the same problem or a variation on the theme weeks, days, or even hours later? How many times does the problem have to be “dealt with” before it is finally worth our precious time to actually fix the problem?
Let’s get back to the word I started with—why. If we took a little time to slow the heck down and use that word as a tool instead of an expletive, we might actually find some value in it! Those three little letters arranged in that sequence are the key to unlocking the source of many (if not all) of our woes. We just need to learn to use this powerful tool better, and be willing not only to ask the question once but to ask and search as many times as is necessary to fix our problem.
“But Adam, how do we know when we have found our answer?” Well, that depends on the size of your problem. It could take mere minutes and a few repetitions of our friendly “why,” or it could take a lot longer than that. You will know that you have found an answer once you find something actionable. Understanding something well enough to be able to do something about it means you have found a way forward that will most likely give your issue some closure. And, if not, you can always ask the question again to find a better path.
The next time you find yourself staring at a problem and wondering why, I encourage you to begin taking notes. Start to quantify what you know and see where that leads you. Perhaps you may uncover something that leads to a long-term solution faster than you expect. If not, you can always reach out to the Protagonist crew (firstname.lastname@example.org) to help you track down the source of your woeful why-ing! We’ve got your back.