Why “Why?” is the Only Question You Need
Did you ask “Why?” a lot as a child?
I sure did, and my Mom had an interesting way to deal with it.
In the days before the internet, you either knew the answer to a question or you didn’t. Most parents don’t know ALL the answers to the breadth of questions a 5-year-old asks.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by all of my “Why”s, my Mom chose to outsource the answers to the one place that might actually have them: the library.
When I asked a question that my Mom couldn’t answer, she would say, “I’m not sure – write it down and we’ll look it up at the library next time.”
First off, as an adult, knowing she was able to admit she didn’t know something so plainly is impressive.
Second, I was never discouraged from asking questions, BUT I was encouraged to seek the answers myself instead of expecting specific people to have them for me.
Asking “Why” opened up a world of discovery I may have never found otherwise.
Topics like physics, sociology, and astronomy may have never become part of my worldview if I wasn’t encouraged to see the answers to my “Why”s.
Why “Why?” is the Only Question You Need
If you ask Simon Sinek, it’s because it’s all starts with “Why.”
We ask “Why” so much as kids because we’re looking for connection, for purpose – specifically, causality.
The traffic lights change BECAUSE they’re programmed to every 75 seconds.
I dropped the plate BECAUSE it was slippery.
She failed the test BECAUSE she forgot the equations.
Our minds naturally seek cause and effect because our brains are lazy.
We want to know if X causes Y, so if we want Y in the future, we’ll do X. Conversely, if you don’t want Y, we don’t do X.
Some things are that simple. Most things aren’t.
The 5 Whys
As an adult, most of my “Why” questions come to me AFTER something has happened.
Why did that fail?
Why did I react like that?
Why didn’t I try that?
I know many people that don’t even bother to ask themselves “Why” after something happens, no matter if they label it a positive or negative experience.
My invitation is for you to not be like them.
The concept of 5 Whys was introduced to me by a fellow entrepreneur.
Originally developed by the architect of the Toyota Production System, the concept is simple: “Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.”
In the case of Toyota, they specifically focused on things that went wrong, but I like to use the 5 Whys for any situation that I want to understand better.
The 5 Whys is about allowing yourself to follow the useful trail of information that may not be so obvious – it just needs to be coaxed out.
Here’s an example:
Why do I want to be a digital nomad? Because I want to work and travel the world at the same time.
Why? To experience new cultures, people, and places.
Why? To understand the world outside of my comfort zone.
Why? To feel more connected to other people who seem different from me.
Why? To find the threads that connect us all.
Let’s try another example:
Why did I miss my flight? Because I didn’t make it to the airport on-time.
Why? Because I was busy packing until 30 minutes before my flight.
Why? Because I forgot to set an alarm to get me up early enough to have time to pack.
Why? Because I was nervous about the flight.
Why? Because I haven’t seen my family in months and I know they’re going to ask about my love life again.
You can certainly use the 5 Whys for business and logistically-focused problems (since that’s what it was developed for):
Why did the newsletter not go out this morning? Because the content wasn’t available.
Why? Because two of the three content writers are focused on an upcoming launch.
Why? Because they thought the third writer was going to write all the content for the newsletter until the launch.
Why? Because that was the plan the three of them agreed upon during the launch planning phase, but it didn’t happen.
Why? Because the project management system wasn’t updated to reflect that change, so the due date got missed.
The goal of the 5 Whys is to find the root cause of the issue (NOT to place blame) OR the root cause of the motivation (depending on the circumstances).
Why Ask Why?
Humans like to take action.
We like getting stuff done, making things happen.
But you won’t know WHAT to do if you don’t know WHY to do it, especially when it comes to solving specific problems or understanding ourselves on a deeper level.
Why is both a reactive + a proactive question, perfect for nearly any situation.
Why do I write first thing in the morning? Because it’s easier to focus and my thoughts are clearer.
Why did you leave the party early? Because he said something really upsetting and I didn’t want to make a scene.
Why are we launching this in April? Because it’s the company’s 10th anniversary in April and this will be a special edition with unique bonuses.
Understanding Why gives more meaning, more depth behind your next action, your next choice, your next thought.
Ask yourself “Why” a little more often – maybe even 5 Whys – to help uncover the roots, the simple solutions + understandings that make big things seem manageable and everything more approachable.