« Boost Creativity: Make Rules To Be Broken | Main | The Act of Noticing »


Becky Robinson

Steve - you sum this up very nicely. It makes sense to me that if managers, execs (or parents) are engaged and in process with employees, the question why won't be an affront, it will be an opportunity. Good reminder to take time to know the whys ourselves before trying to get others on board with our ideas or agenda.


the power of WHY is great, I agree, but the 'state' in which it puts you or your counterpart is powerful too (in a negative way).
In my experience, being just a bit careful (and knowing some basics communication techniques) you can get just the benefit of the WHYs

Steve Roesler


You point out the importance of first knowing the "why" ourselves: well-taken.

Steve Roesler


You know, that's a valuable reminder. I did a post some time ago on the threatening nature of the "why" question. Your cautionary suggestion is a good one. When we ask "Why?", it's easy for people to think we are questioning their motives and intent.

Thanks for the addition. . .

Dan McCarthy

Steve -
Great post, thanks.
When working with the Japanese I was taught to always focus on the "whys" - given the cultural need for purpose and context. "What is purpose" was drilled into my head until it hurt. It seems the same concept would apply to the western world as well.

Steve Roesler


Appreciate that.

I've worked in around 40 different countries over the years, many for long stretches. Japan wasn't one of them (not sure how I missed it). So, I wasn't aware of the cultural bias for "Why?"

Readers: Take note of Dan's first-hand experience.

After thinking about application in the western world, we all have to justify our budgets, plans, etc., which means answering the "Why?" question. We often don't ask "Why?" or "What is the purpose?" In corporations, the more acceptable version seems to be, "What is your rationale for that?"

Thanks again...

peter vajda

Also having worked with the Japanese some years ago, I was introduced into the notion of "The 5 Whys" - in the context of decision-making...the idea being that if you asked "why?" five times when making a decision you would arrive, with some surety, at the real, real, "reason" or "truth" (root cause) underneath the decision, while dismissing false "reasons," emotionally-based decisions, "excuses", assumptions, logic traps, etc., looking past the "presenting problem," and uncover how the problem arose in the first place.

Often when asking "why?" it's possible that one does not have/know the answer---a good thing, an opportunity to apply a cause analysis to the process--applying the formal tools of problem solving when you might have an "answer" but lack confidence in its value and worth. It helps to go below, deeply below, the "surface" of things.

The technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used in Toyota's manufacturing methodology. Not only does the strategy help to define the solution, it helps to define the problem.

Wally Bock

I really resonate with the post and with Dan and Peter's comments. I also discovered the power of asking "Why?" not once, but several times when working with the Japanese. It's one of the powerful hidden tools of continuous improvement. Just in case we need another authority to add to the mix, here's a quote from Ricardo Semler: : "Ask why. Ask it all the time. Ask it any day. Ask it every day and always ask it 3 times in a row."

Chris Witt


I agree, answering the why question is essential. (It's also rarely done in most of the presentations I sit through.)

I like the idea of asking why five times. Maybe doing so will address one of my concerns, which is that different people have different needs or reasons. Why I want something may not (often is not) why you would want it.

I can't tell you how many times people try to sell me something -- an idea, service, product -- that makes sense to them, but not to me, that answers their why question, but not mine.

And the real difficulty comes when we're addressing a number of people at the same time, each of whom has his/her unique needs or perspectives. The CFO may want to know how your proposal will save or make money. The head of sales may be concerned about sagging sales and how your proposal will affect the way her reps will be compensated. The head of R&D may be worried about how your proposal will affect the projects already in his pipeline. Etc.

Steve Roesler


Gotta tell you--I have the same experience with the "why" question frequently being overlooked in presentations. But maybe that's why we're able to stay in business for so long.

It's also why everyone in every discipline ought to go through their company's sales training programs. When speakers start seeing their listeners as sales prospects--and understand the difference between features and benefits (the why), it could turn on a few lightbulbs, eh?

Wally Bock

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

Amer N. Raja

Hi Steve,

Very logical.

Congratulations on being chosen as the "best of Leadership blogs".

Always Best - Amer

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
Office: 609.654.7376
Mobile: 856.275.4002

Enter your name and email address to receive your copy of my coaching eGuide.

Human Resources Today
Business Blogs



  • View Steve Roesler's profile on LinkedIn
Personal Growth from SelfGrowth.com

Get Updates via RSS Feed

  • Enter your email address in the yellow box for FREE daily updates

    Powered by FeedBlitz

Awards & Recognition...

  • Career 100
Alltop, all the top stories