Why it’s good to start by asking why?

Sometimes we can learn as much from ideas that don’t resonate with us, as from those that do. 

Today I heard an interesting one. That there’s a type of question you should NEVER ask as a leader: those starting with ‘why’.

Why? Because it may lead to either a positive or a negative answer. And to operate above the line, you need to ask questions that lead you down a positive path.

Perhaps something was lost in translation. Maybe the example given didn’t work for me. Maybe I was the only person in the room to hear it the way I did.

But I walked away with the clear message that asking ‘why’ is dangerous. I might hear something that could derail my plans, my confidence, my success. Put simply, ‘why’ is taboo.

Cultivating curiosity

As a marketer, cultivating an intentional practice of curiosity makes a meaningful difference.

Knowing why something did or didn’t work, why someone did or didn’t respond as expected, why we’re doing what we’re doing, is critical to designing effective solutions and continuous improvement over time.

I recall being in a leadership development session some years ago. Teams were tasked with the activity of building the tallest tower we could using drinking straws and sticky tape. While everyone else was discussing what shape the foundation should be for greatest stability, I looked up. I asked myself why we needed to start at the floor… why couldn’t we start from the ceiling? Why couldn’t we start from where we wanted to end up – the tallest point in the room?

While everyone else was discussing what shape the foundation should be, I looked up. I asked myself why we needed to start at the floor… why couldn’t we start from the ceiling? Why couldn’t we start from where we wanted to end up – the tallest point in the room?

It took some time to shift some from the ‘doing’ mindset. But I did influence everyone in my team. We probably broke every OHS&W guideline doing it, but we built a hanging tower.

You simply couldn’t get any taller than the height of the room. We won.

Why is the MOST important marketing question

Too often, I come across organisations who don’t ask ‘why’. I can spot them in a heartbeat.

Scatter-gun strategies. Too many ideas that don’t tell a cohesive story. Different answers from people within the organisation about core aspects of the business – vision, purpose, what constitutes ‘success.’ A marketing budget masquerading as a marketing plan that hasn’t changed in years.

It’s tempting to launch straight into the how, what, when and who. Getting things done is part of our modern business culture. And there’s nothing wrong with rolling our sleeves up and being productive.

But we skip strategic intent at our peril. By making the mechanics our focus, we can miss new opportunities and ideas. We can undermine our own success because we lack the singular unifying focus often needed to carry our plans effectively forward.

In my experience, when we start with the ‘why’, every other decision becomes easy.