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Why Ask Why?

“Why?” It’s one of those questions that to anyone who has spent time around young children has probably heard one too many times. As adults, we tend to get impatient and annoyed by this simple question, but kids may actually be on to something! Kids ask why because they are generally not satisfied with the first answer—and this isn’t always a bad thing! “Why?” is an important question that in some circumstances probably isn’t asked enough.

Asking “why”—especially in the workplace—can be extremely helpful in getting to the root of the question or true problem and figuring out a real solution rather than just a temporary quick fix or “band-aid.” In other words, in our busy lives, it can be easier to just answer hastily to a request or question, but by asking why a few times first BEFORE giving your answer, you might find out valuable information regarding the root or cause of the original question.

In his recent book, The Lean Startup, author Eric Ries references the concept and example of the “Five Whys.” His thought is that at the root of every seemingly technical problem is a human problem and asking Five Whys provides an opportunity to discover what that human problem might be.

It may not help or apply in every situation, but try asking why and see what happens! Everyone is busy and moves so quickly during the day, so it initially may take a little extra time, but acquiring more information and getting to the root of the question can help save time and improve the quality of your work in the long-run. So the next time someone asks you a question, channel your inner 3 year old, ask “Why” a couple times and wait for the answers!

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