Asking Why?

Remember that time when you were once a kid, and kept on bugging other people asking why? Everyone has probably gone through that phase or knows someone who has. I vaguely recall asking my dad and uncles, "What is it you're doing?" following up into "How does it work?" and chaining into an endless combo of "Why do that? Why? Why? Why? This goes on until typically either the kid gets bored or distracted by something else, or the uncle shoos off the kid since they're interrupting work.

In putting up a business, we have obvious direct reasons as to why we think we do it. Our bottom line, someone needs to run the family business, it's my passion, I want to earn more money on the side, I need to pay the bills.

While these explain the direct actions that we take, in this case, running a service or setting up shop to earn, they only skim the surface of our motivations, and if we want to take a look at what really drives us, we have to go back to that inquisitive child in us and ask "Why?"

A while back we did some Root Cause Analysis (RCA) exercises as part of the company's drive to improve workplace processes and increase efficiency. Part of this exercise needed to ask "5 Whys". It's actually around 3-6 whys depending on the situation, but the main idea is to keep on asking why, until you get to root of the problem according to the context.

We came up with pretty interesting results, in one exercise, delays that were initially attributed to slow running computers, slow programs compiling, even lazy people on the job, were actually caused because of the physical location of two computers. Program editing software was hardware locked onto two separate PCs and these machines were spaced far apart, one on the second floor in engineering, the other was downstairs on the ground floor in the computer room.

The programmer needed to use both programs, and as result, he had to go back and forth the two machines, and even if he didn't talk to anybody along the way, this to and fro segment costs him about the same time as the actual programming. The company would have spent a lot of money if we upgraded computers, changed to a different software, or even hired an additional guy to do more programming. The same time savings could have been realized by just putting the two computers in the same room!

Going back to the entrepreneur context, it's sometimes good exercise to ask "Why? Why? Why?"

  • Why did you put up this retail business? - "I saw good quality handicraft that didn't get much marketing coverage. It seemed a shame that few people knew about this community's products."
  • Why did you feel bad about it? - "I was interested in the products, and I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people who will also be interested in them."
  • Why do you think people will be interested? - "People inherently like seeing new and unique items. People like to be delighted. Especially if they can help others along the way."
  • Why do you want to delight and help people? - "I believe that people have inherent value, and because of that their genuine smiles are important to me." 

By asking a series of "Whys?" we can get to the emotional, fundamental core of why we actually do things. This helps us get direction when there's pressure to make decisions. By being grounded and knowing why we do things, we do not get lost making choices that are superficial. Yes, a business has to make money, but deep inside, that's not the only reason. Human beings strive and survive due to deeper and more meaningful things. We earn not for moneys' sake, but to reach our heart's desires.

The question is, what are those desires? To find out, we ask another "Why?"

"Why do people have inherent value?"

That I believe strikes deep and true to the heart of the issue. I cannot answer that question for you. Our worldview and our answer to the above question, determines all of the other questions that stem from it. Look at other people around you, look deep, look inside your heart.

"Why are people, why are you valuable?"

Me? I ended up looking above.


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