Ask Why Until Someone Punches You in the Face!
Life is a set of Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes. Things happen in a chain, and we don’t often notice the links (unless we look for them.) Our gut reaction is to, “Get a solution in place!” But, if we don’t fully understand how a problem landed in our lap, the intended solution might fall flat.
All planning starts at an Outcome. For instance, starting a business is an outcome of someone’s decision to become an entrepreneur. But, think about all the things that lead them to that outcome. How did they come up with their idea? How did they build their company? What worked? What sucked like Liver for dinner three times in one week? All these instances shaped their plan; these are Inputs and Outputs. When you add all these things up, you have a handy formula – Inputs +Outputs = Outcomes.
OK, now that we got the math out of the way, let’s examine why our often overlooked friend ‘Why?’ is critical to planning. Unless we understand how we arrived at an outcome, any plan we develop is inherently flawed. Here’s an example I run into all too often. I’m meeting with a business owner, and they say, “My Cash Flow is a god-awful mess! I need another line of credit to get me through these lulls.” They need money, but I need to understand what’s really going on, so I’ll dig a little deeper. Once I start to get a sense of the situation, I begin with, ‘Why?’
Let’s assume we identified Cash Flow issues are stemming from an employee. “I knew I should have never hired my dentist’s nephew to keep the books?” “Why?” “He changed over my billing software to something he is more familiar with. I can’t seem to get good help.” “Why?” “I’m not made of money! I can’t afford to hire kids out of Harvard!” Usually, I’ll park things here and poke around. Generally, we’ll discover that it costs FAR more money to hire friends and family than hire someone with the requisite skills. By asking ‘Why?’ we find our friend’s Cash Flow issues are hampered by his inability to attract the right talent. Employee Inputs resulted in undesirable Outputs (erratic invoicing), which brought us to the Outcome of a Cash Flow Crisis.
The more we know how we got where we are, the better our path forward. I say ask ‘Why?’ every chance you get. Make it as much a part of your vernacular that people call you the ‘Why Gal.’ Asking ‘Why?’ helps us understand the events and circumstances surrounding the current situation. The good, bad, and ugly we learn through examination helps build a strategy yielding the largest likelihood of success. So, I advocate asking ‘Why?’ until you get punched in the face, because the pain of not doing so exceeds that of a left cross to the jaw.