The Importance of Asking “Why?” in Business

“Daddy, why is water wet?” “Mommy, why is the sky blue?” “Why, why, why, why, why?”

When we hear children ask those never-ending round of questions beginning with “why,” we might want to pull our hair out. So, it’s understandable that when we hear “why?” from another adult, there can be some uncertainty, even frustration. However, I would suggest that as far as business purposes go, “why?” is one of the most important questions that can be asked.

Most people have an idea of what they want from a specific software or process. But what is only half the story. The other half is why. You need it to do A, B and C, but why do you need it to do A, B and C? What is the business purpose behind that?

I find that many times the answer is, “because we have always done it that way,” or, “because that’s what our old system did.”

We are all trying to get better and more efficient, both personally and in business. We certainly cannot expect our businesses to improve if we just keep doing what we have always done, or if we spend money on a newer or more effective tool and then try to make it look and function just like the old one.

Remember, we are trying to improve, and that means shedding not only our old ways of doing things (what), but also our old ways of thinking (why).

In fact, I say that knowing why is even more important than what. If I am trying to Hulk-smash a brick wall and I decide to try a different approach so I stop hurting my fist, only to begin ramming it with my head, I have certainly changed what I was doing. But if I don’t stop and look at why I’m doing it, soon I will be unable to think straight. When I stop and ask “why am I smashing the wall?” (a: to get to the other side) then it might occur to me that a small hole from a drill will suffice, or perhaps, even better, a ladder.

When working on a software project, we usually aren’t the ones with the final say. But whether we are the consultant, project manager, or developer, it is our duty to ask the question “Why?” so we can truly improve the process, which in turn improves the business.

Contributor: Lamar Lee, Developer