“Why?” Gives us Purpose

Arguably the most important question asked is, “Why?” Even children drive parents crazy asking, “Why?” “Why?” challenges our paradigms. Simon Sinek describes how Steven Jobs begins presentations with “why” then moves to “how” and “what” to increase impact and acceptance of an idea. I instruct my students to focus on “why” in their process designs so participants understand the purpose of what they are doing. Why is this question so important?

Whenever people get together they do so for a reason. That reason describes the “purpose”. When people do things without knowing the purpose, the end result is unproductive. We need to know why we are doing something – it’s part of our DNA.

How often have you been asked to do something and didn’t ask why? Did it work? Well, it seldom does when you cannot explain why – the purpose. Employee satisfaction surveys often assume that salary will be the biggest complaint, but the results generally indicate that the biggest complaint is that employees don’t know how their work fits into the big picture, i.e., they don’t know “why” they are doing the work. Business processes exist for a reason; data is gathered for a reason; an organization exists for a reason – they answer the question, “Why?”

When I train Facilitators and Leaders “how to” effectively run meetings and workshops, I insist that they write a purpose statement for every step in the agenda so that if someone asks, “why?” there is a legitimate response – purpose. Whenever he or she doesn’t have a legitimate response, he or she will find it difficult to guide the group because when the why is not known, groups resist or don’t participate.

The same is true in defining processes, data, organizations, building computer systems, buying software, etc. When “why” is not known, decisions, selections, and actions serve no purpose. It must be the first question asked in any effort. “Why are we buying this software?” “Why do you need this data?” “Why does this process exist?” If you don’t have or receive a legitimate response, it’s to your benefit to keep asking until you do.

So, begin whatever you do by asking, “Why?” When we ask “Why?”, we start our efforts off on the right track. We do work that gives us purpose. purpose