Image by Liquid Lucidity via Flickr
Written by Karen D. Swim
Years ago, I had a colleague who we nicknamed “The Why Girl.” It was not one of those mean, behind the back nicknames whispered in the corner by the water cooler, she knew and embraced our good natured ribbing. She earned the nickname because in every management meeting, you could count on her to ask “Why?” When presenting her own points, she would give you her list counting them off 1, 2, C (because she always forgot if she was counting down numerically or alphabetically – yes we found it hilarious!). I liked “Why Girl.” Questions force us to examine our own beliefs and opinions, and in doing so renew our own understanding. One of the best ways to learn is to teach.
I think of “Why Girl” a lot these days as I question actions I have taken for granted and explore new paths. The exercise has opened my eyes to things I do without thinking that may befuddle others. It has made me take a step back and examine business processes – Why did I set it up this way? Is this intuitive for customers? Why did I word this message in that way? Is it easily understood? Is email most efficient for this communication or would it be better to call?
When children ask “Why”” it can be annoying. We may tire of explaining and become exasperated when we can’t explain something that we just accept as true. Yet, are colleagues and customers silently asking “why?” Are we exasperating them with our lack of answers or unwillingness to even listen.
Social media enthusiasts risk not asking “why?” and assuming that everyone knows how to (fill in the blank) or that everyone understands why. In truth, only a small percentage of your population may understand “why.” Believe it or not there are still many people who are not even comfortable with email let alone other social media tools. It is important not to become so entrenched in your comfort zone that you isolate those who may not be where you are yet.
Or you can dig in your heels and decide that they need to figure it out because after all the future is here. You could do that … but it would be a big mistake. A willingness to ask why provides you an opportunity to lead. When you not only understand but are willing to show others the way you will achieve far greater results than simply following the “in-crowd.” Taking a step back to examine, and question may lead you to discover an unmet need. Identifying an unmet need is an opportunity to fulfill that need in the market, and to take a position of leadership.
The truly cool kids are not just moving from one shiny toy to the other, they’re taking it apart, banging it against the wall, and merging it with different parts. They’re not only asking why” but also “What if?” If you are wiling to challenge, examine and question you have an opportunity to do and be great. In my mind that’s a much better position than simply standing in line waiting for someone else to figure it out.
Have you asked “why” lately in your business or personal life? Were you surprised by the answer? Feel free to share your comments, opinions or questions. Discussion is welcomed and encouraged.