(Note: Rep is headed out on another climbing expedition, and while he’s out, aside from April 1st, the next five or so blogs will be authored by guests.)
The word ‘why’ is easily the hottest word in consulting circles nowadays. Pundits and gurus alike have us convinced that the best and brightest organizations take pains to answer the why question when explaining why they exist.
These very same pundits and gurus assure us the enlightened employees of these oh-so-cool organizations also ask themselves the same why question each and every day, albeit with a slight twist: ‘Why do I go to work every day?’
I must admit I was a tad skeptical about the warm-and-fuzzy nature of the why question.
Then, I read two recent books that converted this Doubting Thomas,
The first is titled, ‘A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas‘ by Warren Berger. My first why question concerns the title: Why the hell is it so ponderous?
Ah, but the text justifies the cumbersome title. To wit:
- Guess how Gatorade was invented? The makers watched University of Florida football players scrimmage under the broiling tropical sun and asked themselves, ‘Why aren’t they urinating more often?’ Bingo. They created Gatorade.
- Guess how the Polaroid camera was invented? A three-year-old girl asked why she had to wait to see the picture.
- A company called Square became an overnight sensation by asking the question, ‘Why can’t credit cards be accepted everywhere?’
In the 1980 presidential election, Daniel Pink argues in ‘To Sell Is Human‘ that Ronald Reagan romped to a landslide victory over incumbent as the result of asking a single question: ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ Carter simply couldn’t respond.
Interestingly Mitt Romney & Co., tried the same gambit in 2012 only to find more people answered ‘yes’ or ‘the same’ to the better-off question. So, choose your questions wisely.
Berger thinks most mission statements fall flat because they’re crafted as declarative sentences: ‘We use robotics to make the world a better place’ is ho-hum, to say the least.
But, says, Berger, research shows that turning that very same sentence into a question will rally employees, customers and supply chain partners in a far more compelling, and authentic way. To wit: ‘How might we use robotics to make the world a better place?’
See the difference? See the opportunity it extends to one, and all, to participate? See the open invitation for everyone to contribute new ideas?
Pink argues that a why question (as opposed to a declarative statement) makes people think and work just a little harder to come up with their own reason for agreeing or not. And when people summon their own reasons for believing something, they ENDORSE THE BELIEF more strongly and become more likely to act on it.
I don’t know about you. But job one this morning is dusting off our existing mission statement and turning it into a question.
Why? Because I want the outcomes Berger and Pink promise:
- I want my people to feel as if they’re helping answer the question posed by the mission statement rather than shrugging their shoulders and meekly accepting it.
- I also want my employees to personalize the mission statement question and ask how they, themselves, can contribute to the answer.
Why is indeed one very, powerful word. My only question to every other organization laboring under a mission statement written as a declarative statement is this: Why not turn it into a question and see what happens?