Asking Why In The Beginning, Middle And The End
– Starting with Why is the Key to Longevity
If we have a signal strategy that forms the bedrock for all our
practices, it may be to simply ask “Why?”
Encouraging all stakeholders to question and challenge everything the company does, by asking why all the time, any day, every day, and always three times in row. A deeper why. A challenging why. A disruptive why.
By asking why things are done in a specific way, everyone is encouraged to think rather than merely follow instructions. Challenged and intrinsically motivated employees are more productive than employees who try to adhere to arbitrary rules.
Share control, tap into collective wisdom: most of the practices that people so blindly accept as part and parcel of the business environment are not as absolutely essential as they seem. In fact, most of these common practices have taken root as offshoots of a paternalistic mentality, or of the business community adopting a command-and-control style as the best way to organize itself. When you stop and ask some pointed questions, is soon becomes clear that there must be a better way to get things done while harnessing the collective brainpower and intelligence of everyone involved.
Allow for self-interest: Semco Style insists that employees seek personal challenges and satisfaction before trying to meet the company’s goal. Giving people room for exploration and self-discovery. The WhyWay can be a good way to feel challenged, invigorated and productive, because asking “Why?” is a truly human experience.
When (NOT) to use it?
Why is not about results, but about a purpose, a cause or a belief of which results are the by-product. Why provides clarity and inspiration. Moreover, synchronizing on why creates trust (remember: trust is not a checklist!). If you need to go fast ask “How?”, if you want to go far ask “Why?”. In some circumstances asking “How?” is very relevant and therefore adequate, but most of the time asking “Why?” delivers a more sustainable foundation to build on.
Level to implement
Challenge the status quo
Confront the brutal facts
Give up (or in)
Take the easy way out
May take time
Always ask “Why?” — You keep asking why and you generally get to the answer, ‘It is what it is.’ And when people realize they’re stuck in a mode they really can’t explain, this works wonders in breaking down resistance and opening up new possibilities.
It also works wonders with that dreaded and inescapable ritual of working life, the meeting. At Semco, all meetings start by asking “why we agreed to what we agreed to last time”. They don’t have minutes, but just start by recounting what was decided and why — and depending who’s in the room, sometimes the whole thing falls apart. Or everybody nods and agrees and the meeting moves on, but never just because a meeting or minutes indicate it should.
It’s not very comfortable for anyone. But that’s exactly the point. When people are not only free, but actively encouraged, to question, to get up and leave a meeting that bores them, to bop into a meeting that interests them, and to push back on previous conclusions, you actually have a chance to get to the heart of the matter, to escape ruts, and to do something that’s worth doing. That’s the spirit of Semco’s regular “Esta Luoco?!” meetings, where only the most outlandish ideas are seriously considered.