The other day my son decided that he wanted to move our coffee table. It sat, as a coffee table would, in front of our couch, in the middle of the living room, between our couch and television. That coffee table is my best friend. It holds drinks while I’m watching TV, my laptop while I’m playing video games and my feet while I’m curled up watching bad television dramas with my wife. So when my son got on one side of it the other day and started pushing it while muttering under his breath, “We have to move this out of the way…” I got ready to say “no”.
But my wife chimed in with a different response. She said, “why do you want to move the table?” My son then explained that the table being in the middle of the room meant that he and his sister couldn’t run and jump and play in the living room. There was less room for floor puzzles and the two of them often bumped into the table, often hurting themselves. They were good reasons. So we said sure, and since that point, we’ve moved a few other things around based on those same ideas. Now this isn’t a post about good parenting or feng shui or anything like that. This is a post about the power of “why.”
Managers are owners and even peers are programmed, from the get go, to say no. We’re provided with scaffolding of what we can and can’t do and we’re given all the pieces of the puzzle that we need to be able to say no. It’s like one of those diagrams where it asks a bunch of questions and then either gives you a yes or a no…except that in business, the answer is almost always no. Whether we’re asking to change a policy or a procedure or our work schedule or whatever, we start with no and then maybe wiggle when we need to. But no is the wrong thing to start with. We need to start with “why.”
Your peers and bosses are all trained that new is bad. Ideas are bad. Thinking is bad. Productivity is good. It’s a real cave person mentality and it’s holding great people back from great things. When I was doing my education degree our professor asked, on the first day, “does anyone know how I got eye cancer?” One student piped up and said, “Smoking?” to which the professor responded, “IN MY EYYYYEEE?” That student didn’t say anything in that class for the remainder of the year.
We just want the answer. The right answer. The answer we’re used to. But the biggest innovations come when we start with the idea that there HAS to be a better way. My son decided that there HAD to be a better way to arrange our living an instead of saying “no” and hoping he’d back down, my wife asked that most incredibly important questions, “why”.
Start asking why.