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How often should you ask Why?

Smart Processes

August 13, 2014

How often should you ask Why?

This is really about not taking things at face value. I always assume there is more to everything that the amount I can see. Asking why 5 times is a well established technique for getting to the real cause of something, you can read more about it here.  But you can extend the idea of asking why 5 times to encompass a broader field of enquiry - think of it as becoming a Doubting Thomas about any information that you don't get direct from the source.

As always, an example of a recent occurrence backs up my claim: recently here at Hothouse Design we needed to find out how to connect three different cloud applications. One is Business Catalyst, the software we use to create websites, the other two were accounting and point of sale software. Astonishingly we found a company that claimed on its website to connect all three.

Pause here – this seemed too good to be true and that's always the best trigger for getting into questioning mode. The first check we made was their blog to find out if they had made an announcement about being able to make these three cloud applications connect. We found that their blog hadn't been updated in more than six months. Their twitter stream was even more out of date and their Facebook page was also not current. Even more reason to doubt their claim. An email asking if they could, in fact, make the connection proved our suspicions to be correct - they replied that it wasn't possible.

when something seems to go to be true, trigger your inner nosey-parker and ask, ask, ask.
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Asking 'why' and not taking things at face value is a useful skill to develop. Curiosity, or tapping into your inner Poirot, allows you to absorb more information and helps build connections between disparate bits of data, improving your fluid intelligence – read more about that here.

There are heaps of examples of companies releasing products that look either like nobody has had the guts to say they think its a dumb idea or that the idea isn't good enough to support the effort. For instance, companies trying out new tech to see what works sometimes release products based on ideas that are a bit lame. But can you improve on lame ideas? Yes you can. If you ask 'why' a lot more often you are more likely to identify what the real goal is and strip away wooly thinking.

Tweet: can you improve on lame ideas? Yes you can if you ask Why a lot more often.
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Have a look at this article about Coca Cola trying out chill activated printing on their drink cans. The author of the article argues that having the ability to see if a drink can is cold is unnecessary. It is certainly a bit of a gimmick and probably not a big enough one to encourage people to buy lots of product.

But if something more interesting that ice cubes was revealed when the ink chilled then the gimmick might be more fun. The questions are: why add chill activated ink to the can, what outcome are you looking for, why will customers be interested, and so it goes on.