The Power of Why

I am reading, or more accurately, listening to the book Start with Why by Simon Siner which is about how great leaders inspire people to action.

In one section sets up the framework of “The Golden Circle”, a derivative of the  golden ratio.The golden ratio is the fibonnaci number sequence that underscores balance and progression in everything from the angles in the columns of the Acropolis to the petals on a lilly. The Golden Circle, Siner suggests, is a similar balance relationship that is a necessary component in great leaders, where concentric circles of how and what build up to an interior focus of why. Why is the essence of everything and he goes on to support that premise. Apple, of course is the poster child for his thesis; customers buy Apple products because they believe Apple thinks differently; they believe in the why.

A far more provocative read is  one of my Favorites, A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger.  As Berger so rightly points out, we all want answers, but it is hard to get the best answer if you aren’t asking the right questions.  He explains why it is that despite the fact that we were question machines between the ages of 3-6, we lose that ability to inquire.  The loss is partly frustrated parents who get tired of the why questions, an education system that values answers over questions, and work environments where the”right answer” is all that matters.

He offers some easy ways for us to improve our own inquiry skills such as adding why to a question, (something Siner would no doubt endorse) or softening potentially confrontational questions.  Another technique that I particularly liked was the idea of punctuating a questions  series with 8 or 9 why questions.  By the end of the sequence, you may be discussing a different issue entirely.  For example consider this hypothetical for Company ABC:

Why are sales down? Product line x missed its targets  Why? the targets may have been too aggressive  Why? We had bad data for same store sales last year.  Why? There were issues capturing the right product IDs in the warehouse.  Why? Because we were understaffed for most of the year.  Why? We can’t find the right workers at our warehouse locations.  Why? We can’t compete with our salary packages.  Why? .Because we don’t pay enough to attract skilled workers.

Chances are, after this exercise, Company ABC may  focus more on changing its warehouse salary structure or even relocating the facilities than they would have without this line of inquiry.

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