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Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

My son is nearing two and half years old. Just in the past couple days, he's started asking the question that seems to be the serial signature of kids his age: "Why?"

It reminded me of a principle I learned in my project management training: the importance of asking "why?" five times to determine the root cause of a particular problem or project failure.

While it might seem like common sense, many people and teams don't ask "why?" at the outset of a project either...which often leads to failure down the road.

Moreover, this question - "why?" - is also critical for employee motivation. Most people want to have a sense of purpose in their work, especially government employees.

As David Allen puts it in the book Getting Things Done:

"Let's face it: if there's no good reason to be doing something, it's not worth doing. I'm often stunned by how many people have forgotten why they're doing what they're doing--and by how quickly a simple question like 'Why are you doing that?' can get them on track."

Noted psychologist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said (and I think he was echoing Nietzsche): those who have a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

In other words, this one small word is pretty important and I'm wondering:

How often are you asking yourself "Why?"

- Why do you get up every morning to make your unique contribution?

- Why are you working in your current job?

- Why is a particular project going well or not?

- Why does a problem or challenge on the job not seem to go away?

- Why are you not attempting to do something about it?

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

It's a great question - and one that I love to answer - even if it takes me five rounds to get at a solid answer.

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Profile Photo Josh Nankivel

I'm pretty sure I never grew out of the phase you're son is in.

I think a lot of people would be surprised when they start asking the right questions. My favorite and now ingrained method is to ask these two questions:

  • What value does this add?
  • To whom does it add value?
Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

This reminds me of that great scene in the Woody Allen movie (Manhattan I think) where he plays Alvy, who as a little kid kept saying, "The universe is expanding!" Fix that.