Why? It’s one of my all-time favorite questions. I’m told I asked my parents, “why?” over and over again as a kid and apparently I’ve never grown out of it. There’s no quicker way to cut to the heart of what’s most important, which is one of the greatest responsibilities leaders have. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. In his landmark book Getting Things Done, David Allen shares six distinct ways asking, “why?” adds value. They are too good to keep to myself, so I’ve listed them here below with my own short commentary.
Asking Why Defines Success
People want to win. But no one can win without first defining what success looks like. Success is derived from purpose, no matter how large or small the project or idea.
Asking Why Creates Decision-Making Criteria
Have you ever been on a team struck by the “good idea fairy?” Did it send you down a massive rabbit trail? Don’t pull the trigger on an idea until you’ve established criteria to let you know if it fits or not.
Asking Why Aligns Resources
It’s great to have access to resources. But if you’re unclear on purpose, no amount of resources will ever be enough. Of course, simply spreading all resources evenly across all functions isn’t much better. That’s where the value of “why” comes in; it shows where to concentrate your greatest resources.
Asking Why Motivates
Here’s a direct quote from David Allen: “If there’s no good reason to be doing something, it’s not worth doing.” If meaning truly is one of mankind’s most significance pursuits, it follows that meaningless activities have the power to completely demoralize. On the other hand, recalling why an activity is important renews the motivation to see it through.
Asking Why Clarifies Focus
When we don’t ask why, our purpose temporarily gets out of focus, much like the lens of a camera. Remember how much of a difference high definition television made when it first came to market? Asking why provides laser sharp, HD focus.
Asking Why Expands Options
Once focus is clear, we have freedom to think creatively about how to achieve the desired result. It’s like deciding which options you’d like in your new car. Once you decide on a model, you are freed up to decide how to customize it.
One final note: a post on “why” would be incomplete without including a mention of Simon Sinek‘s book Start With Why. Where Allen focuses on the practical side of asking why, Sinek harps on the inspirational merits.
What is it that you need to ask “why?” about this week?
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker, and thought leader. To learn more about his services, visit NathanMagnuson.com/consulting or follow him on Twitter.