A while back, I wrote a post on “The Power of Why“. It was a reminder that we can’t take for granted that both parties in a conversation, or other interaction, have the same understanding of a statement, request, or instruction.
And while it is generally agreed that explaining why is important. We often forget to do it. The biggest issue I see with messaging and materials that I review from technology providers in my role as a Gartner analyst is a failure to explain why. Features or problems are discussed in detail, but the impact of those features or problems are left to the buyer to figure out.
The topic came up again after I tweeted about an article I saw about the importance of context. I tweeted:
— Hank Barnes (@Barnes_Hank) June 6, 2014
and an exchange with the author of the piece and a few others ensued:
As you can see, even a journalist was brought into the discussion.
So, if something is so well known, why don’t we tell why?
I tweeted one of my opinions, which is partially tongue in cheek, but may have some basis in reality. Think about it, from the time we are little, our parents, our teachers, and many bosses get frustrated if we ask “Why?” too much. The usual response is, “Stop asking so many questions! Just do what I told you to do!” Does that happen in your current job? For many, I suspect it may be occur more often than we’d like to admit (it happens less at Gartner–asking “Why?” is a key part of the research review process), I can think of lots of places I have worked where it happened too much (often the amount of acceptance of the “Why?” question seemed inversely proportional to the size of the company).
Another reason is we simply forget. We are so close to our product or area of expertise, that we take for granted that others will understand the unstated. We live in our problem world for our entire work day, every day. Our customers, however, experience it only in moments. Without that closeness, those connections, that seem so natural to us, are much harder to make.
A final possibility might be that we aren’t sure why it matters. If this is the case,we’d better figure it out. Quick.
Whatever the reasons, we have to break the “Don’t Tell Why” habit. Providing the added detail and context can make the difference between a successful interaction and failure.
The lean manufacturing movement, and since adopted by Lean Startups, and SixSigma take an approach called the 5 Whys. It seeks to get to the root cause (or in our case the root value) of a problem by asking “Why?” 5 times.
As I wrote originally, force yourself to think and ask “Why” at least once, if not 5 times, whenever you are reviewing material and want to truly grasp the impact of it. If you are creating or delivering the material, force yourself to review it to make sure you’ve answered the why question. I’m even more confident than ever that more success will follow.
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