5 January 2016

It's a question I ask often. In fact, my girlfriend regularly gets annoyed because I ask this question so often and without even thinking about it. It's one reason she refers to me as her six foot toddler, because kids are notorious for asking this question without relent.

I choose to think this is because I've managed to hold on to part of my child-like sense of wonder. She probably would give you another reason. I'm trying to break my habit of asking her 'why' so often, but I think most people don't ask themselves and those around them this question enough.

It's an incredibly simple question, but it also gives the person asking the question some context that can be quite useful. It is probably the quickest way to gain an understanding of the underlying motivations of the person being asked.

Asking yourself this question about things that have become routine can help you realize that maybe there is a better way, it can help you fight dogmatic thinking, and it can help you better understand yourself. Asking 'why' can keep you out of a rut that you might have been stuck in for years otherwise.


Because things change. We live in a world that is moving faster than any other time in history. Things are constantly in flux. Getting comfortable with the way things are can be nice, but this can also create a serious disadvantage for yourself. Change is probably the only constant in this world and being able to adapt to it and leverage it is an extremely valuable skill. Asking yourself 'why' is an extremely simple and effective way of going about this.

Don't get me wrong, I doubt changing is any easier for me than it is for anyone else. You certainly can't be changing everything all the time. If you don't develop any routines or other mechanisms to limit your daily decision making, you'd be constantly exhausted and completely overwhelmed.

You have to pick the important areas of your life that can benefit the most from having a current understanding of the reasoning behind how you do things and what things you do. It would probably be good to ask yourself why those areas are the important ones fairly regularly as well.

One of the best ways to determine the root cause of a problem is called a 5 Whys Analysis. It's pretty much as simple as it sounds: you ask yourself why five times.

Why didn't I call the dealership to pickup my car that won't start today? Because I forgot. Why did I forget? Because I got so wrapped up in the project I'm working on at work that it slipped my mind? Why did it slip my mind? Because I didn't do anything to help myself to remember. Why didn't I do anything to help myself remember? Because I didn't put a reminder in my phone when I was thinking about it last night. Why didn't I put a reminder in my phone? Because I was on the phone with someone when I remembered.

There's the reason. To solve the problem, maybe I should keep a pen and paper handy so I can write stuff down and review it regularly.

Wielding 'why' effectively is quite important because people don't really like to have their motives and reasoning constantly questioned. It's advisable to craft your why's specifically. Responding to a well thought out statement with a curt 'why?' can be quite annoying. It's better to include some specifics that prove you are invested in conversation and trying to gain a deeper understanding.

Next time the new guy asks you an onslaught of questions about how you do things and why you do them that way. Remember, they might not be second-guessing you, but trying to get up to speed more quickly. Plus, humoring him might just give you an insight into how you can get better.