This word has led humanity down from the trees, out of Egypt, out of the Dark Ages, through the Enlightenment, the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. Asking why is the basis of scientific endeavors during the search for truth. The ability to ask “why” is what sets humans apart from any other species on Earth, or across the universe as far as we currently know.
Far too often people jump immediately into solution mode. People try to fix things before really knowing what is wrong. By doing so, an entirely new set of problems are created called unintended consequences. People seem to operate in panic mode today, rushing to the next dilemma before thinking through the ramifications of their actions. By many accounts, there seems to be a growing lack of focus, and subsequently a growing dissatisfaction with work across a wide spectrum of people.
In any organizational setting, people need to know why they exist in the first place. In order to move a company forward it is necessary to know the future intent the leadership has for the entity before answering how is it going to be achieved. Strategic intent is not about today, next week or next month, it is about the purpose for the organization and what it can be in the future. Answering why the organization exists sets the purpose for all activity and efforts expended.
Why do customers/users/staff people do the things they do? Why don’t they do something else? Why do they take one action under certain conditions and not another? Why are products and services built the way they are? Why are channel partners doing what they are doing? Why does the competition do what they do? Why does a firm have a certain set of capabilities and not other sets? Why does a certain culture exist in the organization?
The beauty and frustration of asking why is that it never ends. More awareness, more insight, more knowledge allows people in business to create offerings and business models that are more appropriate for the changes underway in the human condition.
Any organization seeking to create growth must understand why things are the way they are before they can be changed effectively. Designing the future requires understanding the unsatisfactory state of current conditions, or what exists in the world that can be applied to create a new reality, before appropriate and useful solutions are conceived and executed. In a business sense these solutions must deliver profit growth, and not just by cost-cutting or off-shoring jobs.
The second most powerful word to deliver new customer value (aka innovation) is effectiveness. Peter Drucker wrote extensively on effectiveness, but that is for another day. In the meantime, before launching off on another wild-goose-chase, why not ask why before committing to a course of action? It might surprise you.
Roy Luebke is an innovation expert focused on discovering new, customer-driven opportunity areas to help define the future of a company. He is inspired by knowledge and learning, and applying structured tools and methods at the crossroads of strategy and innovation to achieve business growth.