I’m told that as a kid I was particularly annoying to people because I asked so many questions. Apparently my favorite question was why. That is still the case today. Not that I’m annoying (I hope) but that my favorite question remains why. 

Why should be your favorite question too. In almost every circumstance you should be asking why. 

Why do I do the things I do. Why is my boss asking me to do the things they ask me to do. Why am I asking the people I lead to do the things I’m asking them to do. Why does my company have our current policies and procedures in place. Why don’t people ask why more?

You know how little kids will sometimes ask an endless string of why questions? Well those kids are on to something. But those kids also have an advantage over grownups, the kids don’t need courage to ask why. As we get older it seems asking that question requires a lot more courage. The most successful people find the courage to be like kids.

You can tell me you’re a highly productive person but if you can’t tell my why you do the things you do, with a high level of specificity, then you don’t really know if you are actually as productive as you could be. 

If you’re a leader and you can’t explain, again with a high level of specificity, why you’re asking your people to do specific tasks and assignments then you should not be asking them to do them. 

And just so we are crystal clear on this point, “we have always done it this way” is NOT a high level of specificity. 

Too many “leaders” still think being asked “why” by one of their people is an affront to their authority. Authentic Leaders don’t need authority to lead, they use their influence instead. They willingly answer the “why” questions with as much detail as they can muster. 

The next time one of your people asks “why” tell them. Tell them why you’ve asked them in particular. Share with them why the task or assignment is important to the organization. Include how it helps you and how it can help your team member grow and develop. If you don’t have any of those answers then you REALLY need to ask yourself why you’re asking someone to perform that task. 

Most of all, understand it is not a weakness to answer your teams “why” questions. It is in fact the strength of an Authentic Leader. 

As an individual, if you’re not asking yourself a why question at least once a day you may be doing things that are burning up your valuable time without giving you any value in return. That is not a path to prosperity. That is also not a path to happiness. 

I’d rather be annoying and know why I’m doing what I’m doing instead of mindlessly doing what I’ve always done. Even if that means annoying myself sometimes. 

So be a kid again. Ask why until you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s way better than just doing stuff to do it. 

Unconventional Wisdom

Why do you do it like that? Because it’s always been done that way? Because that’s how “they” do it. Maybe it’s because conventional wisdom says that’s they way to do it. Conventional wisdom seldom leads to breakout success. Unconventional wisdom often does.

Things change! Pretty much everything changes!

Here’s a fun story that shows why we should always be thinking “why.” 

It’s Easter morning as a little girl watches her mom preparing the ham to go into the oven. The mom cuts a bit of ham off of each end before placing it it the pan for baking. The little girl asks her mom why she cut some ham from each end and the mother answers, “I’m not really sure why we do that dear, I do it because my mom always did it. Why do you go in the other room and ask Grandma.” 

So the little girl skips on into the family room and asks the same question to Grandma. Her answer is surprisingly similar, she says, “well I’m not really sure why, I always did it because that’s the way my mom always did it. Why don’t you go into the other room and ask great-grandma why she did it.” 

Off goes the little girl into the living room to ask the same question to her great-grandma. Her great-grandma answers, “well dear, I’m not sure why your grandma or mother cut a piece off of each end of the ham, I did it simply because I never had a pan big enough to put the whole ham in.” 

That’s just how it happens when we allow “we’ve always done it that way” to be part of how we do things. Anything! 

We’ve always done it that way is the absolute worst reason for doing anything a certain way.

Annual or repeating events are the most dangerous and most likely to become “habit” events. Never do an annual event without re-thinking every part of the event. Why do we do it? What must be better? What must be different? Should we do the event at all? 

Relentlessly re-think. Why? Why? Why?

Improvement requires some sort of change, even if it’s only doing the same thing better. We’ve always done it that way is not the way to improve anything. 

Even when you’re satisfied that something is “good enough” you must challenge your thinking. The most successful people know that good enough never is. “Good enough” is accepting mediocrity and once you accept mediocrity then excellence becomes out of reach. 

Stop thinking we do it this way or we do it that way and start asking why. Why? Why? Why not do it some other way? 

Be honest with your answers. If you don’t know why then find out. Accepting what is without determining what could be is just being lazy. 

Don’t be lazy and you just might become a success!