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Why we need to start thinking like children again

It’ll be fun, trust me!

“IDEATION: Asking Why?” — Ratdesign.de


As children we nail the concept of “asking why”, we have it down to an art form. Of course our parents probably see it a bit differently…


  • Why do we have to eat? Because it’s good for you

  • But why is it good for me? Because it gives you energy

  • But why does it give me energy? Because your body needs it

  • But why does my body need it? Because otherwise you’d be hungry

  • But why do I get hungry…?

Eeeek I think by the fifth “but why?” they roll their eyes and say “Just because” right? However asking why is the most crucial innovation tool in the workplace and we need to leverage more often.


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Asking Why

Why is it important to ask why? What does it have to do with innovation? Or digitalisation? Or with developing new technology?


Because if we don’t ask why, then we can’t figure out the root cause of the problem. If we can’t get to the root cause of the problem then we may solve the wrong problem, or we miss the issue completely.


“Eighty percent of the time, we work on the wrong problem.” — Steve Jobs


Let me take a moment to let that sink in. 80% of the time. That’s a high percentage, but often in corporations we forget to ask why we are doing something to get full buy-in, or we are discouraged from asking questions. We might be afraid to look like idiots, or are not working in a trusting or transparent workplace. Without understanding the why we can’t possibly improve.


A simple illustration…

I used to work at McDonalds restaurants and, while my diet suffered, I learned some invaluable training gems during my time there. McDonalds restaurants are known for their excellent training programs. Politics surrounding fast food and how they impact the food industry and environment aside — they are excellent at training newbies, especially those that take a role as their first job during high school.


One thing they do really well in their training is explaining the “why” behind the rules. For example: Customers would complain about wax floating in their cup of coca-cola. If we didn’t ask why then we would just assume that the cups are the issue or the wax was already in the ice. Perhaps go through a huge recall and replacement. Instead we can ask why?


Why is there wax in the cup? Because the paper cups are coated in wax to stop them getting soggy. But it turns out that the fact they are coated in wax is not the reason for the problem.


  • Why is there wax in the cup? Because the wax is breaking off the cup

  • Why is the wax breaking? Because of the ice

  • Why is the ice the problem? Because we are using the cups to scoop up the ice into the cup

  • Why are we using the cup? Because it’s faster

  • Why do we need to use the ice scoops? Because they stop the wax breaking off the cup

And there it is. The real problem was that employees were trying to move and deliver orders faster, thinking this was the most important part of service. Not realising that they needed to ensure “quality” first and foremost. Once that was explained — i.e. even though it seems faster to scoop up the ice using the cup itself, the scoop prevents wax going into the drink — then employees became diligent in using the ice scoop.


A simple illustration but apply this to any issue in your organisation and you can see the benefits of asking why. My colleague Steven Mc Auley adds other great examples in The Innovator’s Journal.


The benefits of asking why

If we don’t ask why, not only do we stay in the dark about the real root cause of the problem, but we also aren’t motivated to do things the right way.


As per the now infamous quote attributed to Henry Ford


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horse.”


To increase innovation we need more expansive ideals and visions. TD Bank is about “being the better bank” which can include any number of solutions and gives their employees freedom to meet their customer’s needs as they see fit, enabling them to be the representatives of the better bank.


Bombardier Inc. nails this. Instead of calling themselves jet or or rail manufacturers, they are a company that “moves people”. This makes the goal of the company much more innovative, spanning all kinds of logistics and solutions.


The deeper we dig, the closer we get to the actual cause or problems we need to solve. Innovation lives here — at the why. When we are solving for the right problem, we are increasing our innovation.


Asking why is how we create better products, effective efficiencies and processes, and how we create new solutions for the right use cases.


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Instagram: TinyBox| Image Design: Rat Design


Interested in the other challenges? Order the Innovators Journal here.

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