Tag Archives: Question

Why​ Ask “Why?”

By, Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

“Why?” is such an easy question to ask. I suppose that’s why it’s a child’s favorite question.

Having raised two daughters, I remember going through a period in each of their lives when it seemed the only question they knew was, “Why?” At first, it was cute because I viewed it as their thirst for knowledge. I also have a theory that it is an innate human trait for each new generation to garner as much information from the previous generation in order to seamlessly perpetuate life and our society. Children are natural problem solvers. They keep asking “Why?” until they have gleaned all the information available.

Child: “Why do I have to go to school?”

Parent: “To learn.”

Child: “Why do I need to learn?”

Parent: “So you can grow up to be smart.”

Child: “Why do I need to be smart?”

Parent: “So you can get into college.”

Child: “Why do I need to go to college?”

Parent: “So you can get a good job.”

Child: “Why do I need a good job?”

Parent (Now exhausted with this exercise): “Because Daddy says so!” OR “I don’t know, go ask your Mom!”

Child: “Oh! OK!”

Mission Accomplished! I now know as much as Dad on the subject of why I have to go to school…

This technique is actually a tool of good critical thinkers. There is a name for it. It’s called the “Five Whys.” It’s a basic process to gather information to solve a problem by asking the question “Why?” five times, or until there is no more new information available. This is most useful in identifying the root cause of most problems.

When my youngest daughter, Tess, was born, I remember my older daughter holding her new baby sister and looking up at me and saying, “Dad, we’re gonna have to teach her everything.” I laughed because my older daughter, Caitlin, was only 6 at the time. The fact that she thought she was at a point in her life where she believed she already knew everything didn’t escape me. As time went on and she reached her teenage years the point that she did know everything – and I no longer knew anything – was a frequent topic of intense debate between us! Caitlin stopped asking, “Why?” because she assumed she knew why!

I think every parent remembers that night when they went to bed, and their child considered them the smartest person in the world only to wake up the very next morning and find that during the night that same child had arrived at the conclusion that they were being raised by idiots! Ah, those cherished memories of raising children!

The fact is, most – if not all – of us stopped asking “Why?” as often as we should a long time ago. Today, this prevents us from gathering good information that helps get to the real cause of our problems. Some people refer to the process as “peeling apart the onion.” Each peel reveals a new layer. Or, you can equate asking Why? five times to those egg-shaped Russian dolls where you open one doll and it reveals another doll…. And another…. And another…. Until you get to the last doll that is the smallest of them all.

Root causes are similar to that last Russian doll – small, simple, and most times easy to handle.

In my work as a critical thinking skills executive coach, I have encountered that most people or teams focus on problems as the first doll that they see and don’t do a good job of asking questions – such as “Why?” – to open it up to reveal the next doll. This happens for a variety of reasons. The three root cause reasons are:

  • Overrated Intuition – Individuals assume they know what the root cause is and therefore, there is no need to ask any more questions. In your gut, you believe you know the root-cause and you jump immediately to generating solutions.
  • Time – In order to keep up with our fast-paced business environments and demand for high productivity individuals see questions leading to more information that eventually spins into analysis-paralysis. So again, there is the tendency to spring into identifying potential solutions. Usually, these solutions only address the symptoms of the problem and the root-cause continues to wreak havoc and be disruptive.
  • Ego – Many people view asking “Why?” as highlighting a personal knowledge deficiency. “If I ask ‘Why?’ others will discover I don’t know and that will tarnish my image as a manager or subject matter expert and I will lose the respect I need to lead.” To which I reply, “Get over it. If you knew everything you wouldn’t be sitting behind that desk. You’d be on a yacht in the Caribbean enjoying your millions because you have all the answers to every business problem in the world.”

Whatever your reason may be for not asking “Why?” more often, get over it! Get in the habit of asking “Why?” You will find the benefits – especially when working with others – will exceed just gathering more information. It will help:

  • Increase collaboration within your teams or work groups because they will come to know that you value their input and won’t be quickly dismissed.
  • Your co-workers – and family members – will feel more comfortable expressing their points of view around you.
  • It will make you humble and appear less arrogant.
  • And finally, you will learn so much more then you do now.

So, when you’re done reading this, ask yourself; “Why don’t I ask ‘Why?’ more often?” Then take steps to do so!

__________________________

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Turning Negative Thinking Into Positive Results

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, she was learning her numbers from 1-100. Her teacher sent home a newsletter with some games we could play with her at home that would help her in this learning quest. One of the games she suggested was “Guess the Number.” This is where you – the parent – think of a number in your head and your child has to guess what number you have selected.

“Alright Tess,” I said “Let’s play a game. (Over the years I have found children -and most adults – prefer to play games, than to do homework!) I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Your job is to ask me questions to figure out what that number is.”

She sat down next to me and with a huge smile expressing her excitement said, “OK, dad.”

Putting my hand to my forehead and massaging it as if I were actually rubbing the number into my head I said “O.K. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 100… Got it…. Go!”

Using information of which she was confident, my daughter began by guessing. “Is it one?” No. “Is it two?” No. “Is it three?” Uhhhh, No!

I soon realized the game which I originally thought would end quickly could painfully involve 100 questions (99 of which would be wrong!) By the time she asked, “Is it 18?” it dawned on me that I didn’t have to use the number “65” that I had chosen. So I shouted, “Yes Tess, it’s 18!” We both clapped and I gave my five year-old daughter a hug for her Mensa-like accomplishment.

She was excited and so proud of her demonstration of superior intellect that she demanded we play again. So I obliged. This time when I told her that I had selected my number her first question was different than before. She didn’t start with, “Is it one?” Instead she asked, “Is it 18?” I realized how quickly she had learned a problem solving process that so many adults use to solve problems in their professional and personal lives, and that is going back to what it was the last time. Sadly, that problem solving process is incredibly ineffective.

When teaching or facilitating I find most people immediately assume that a problem occurred because of the same cause which created the same or similar situation the last time. Whether it’s a software problem, a new product, or a manufacturing process, we often jump to solutions because they worked the last time. Thus, ignoring new data and contradictory evidence. Our experience can actually lead us astray as we compound the problem by seeking data that supports our conclusion – a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.”

In “Guess the Number,” the best first question is the one that eliminates the most possible choices. For example, if we ask, “Is it greater than 50?” With one question, we may not know the answer, but we definitely know what the answer is not, and have immediately eliminated 50% of our problem. Continuing that line of thinking, if we discover the answer is not greater than 50, our next question might be, “Is it greater than 25?” So in just two questions we identify what the answer “is not” and have eliminated 75% of our possibilities. If you continue to play the game out you will be surprised at how “few” questions you need to ask until you get down to just one number from 100 possibilities…

There is power in this type of negative thinking, and when we’re looking for the root cause to problems, asking questions which help identify what it “is not” can have tremendous benefit such as saving time and becoming more productive. When attempting to solve your next problem, here are some tips to try:

1. Ask what the problem could be, but is not. Don’t just describe what the problem is. Spend time identifying what the problem could be but is not.

2. Don’t ask “Why?” Ask “Why Not?” instead. Often we encourage confirmation bias by asking people to justify why they believe something is the root cause of the problem. Instead, ask people to uncover data that explains why a potential cause is not the root cause. If you can’t identify any “why not’s,” then it could be your most likely cause.

3. Seek to eliminate possible causes first, rather than confirm them. Just ask, “Which possible causes can we eliminate because they would cause a problem we are not seeing?” For example, let’s say you can’t open an email. It might be a problem with your internet service provider. But, if another computer in your house uses the same connection and it’s working just fine, then the blame lies elsewhere.

So, turn on your negative thinking. Over the past 25 years, I have seen such thinking save my clients time, energy and money they might have wasted implementing the wrong fixes.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Problem Solving