The Search for WHY

I’m constantly hearing the word ‘why.’ Whether it’s throughout my day at work, from my kids, or in my own head. The phrase is always present, and I’ve been saying it a lot lately, so I thought I’d explore it a bit further (if for no other reason but my own clarity.) What I’ve realized is that depending on the situation, this phrase can be either really positive and motivating, or negative and detrimental.

I have kids — four to be exact, all between the ages of four and nine. What I’ve noticed is that kids are curious creatures. When they get to a certain age, all they want to know is ‘why.’ “Why do I have to take a bath?” “Why do I need to put on my seatbelt?” etc., often without their rational thought to think and understand what the answer means. Sometimes (not often), they even accept the “because I said so” response. But then, the whys get a little more complicated and detailed as they grow older. “Why can’t I have my own room?”and “Why do I have to play with him or her?” Their curiosity turns into defiance, and I’m sure the questions escalate even further. My kids are still in these early stages, so I don’t know what to expect next. I can only hope I can stay one step ahead, so I know how to respond in a positive and helpful manner, but needless to say, the search will continue…

In the professional world, especially in the marketing and public relations industry, we often hear and use the ‘why’ phrase with our clients (internal and external). In order to get to the deep root of a business and why people should care about your company, either to purchase a product or sell a service, marketers and business owners need to understand the ‘why’ of their business and what it means to their customers.

We often refer to Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ theory and his brilliant and simple explanation of understanding the ‘why’ from the ‘how’ and ‘what.’ The ultimate goal of our efforts are to translate this ‘why’ into a clear and direct message that the customer understands so they’re able to make the right decision and feel good about it.

Up until now, all the searching for ‘why’ has been for positive reasons, and overall a good thing — kids explore their curiosity — companies grow and learn to become valuable to its customers.

Finally, we also search for answers to ‘why’ in our personal lives. Whether it’s intentional or not, the question we often first ask ourselves is, “why did this happen?” Then, an inordinate amount of time and energy is spent trying to get a better understanding of what it means and how it happened. We (or at least I) don’t stop to think about what we’ll do with the answer if we actually discover it, which is highly unlikely. Will it bring any closure tho the situation? Is there a positive outcome if I uncover the truth? Finally, does it change something in the future, or will all this searching of ‘why’ keep me stuck in the past? The desperate search for ‘why’ in our personal lives is often a delaying experience, which takes away more than it offers. This can have a negative affect on one’s understanding and perception of the world they live in. They will perseverate on it until it consumes their everyday thoughts and conversations, often alienating acquaintances and friends, thereby allowing even more time for thought of the ‘why’.

So, my conclusion (as if it isn’t evident), is that it’s okay to be curious — whether in business and in our personal lives, but keep the search to child’s level of understanding. Once the “why” has been addressed, move onto the ‘how’ and ‘what’. For instance, “How can I move past it?” and “What can I do ensure this doesn’t happen again?” I’ll refer to it as the “Olympian Circle”. If ‘why’ is the gold, go in reverse to get out. Take the silver (the ‘how’) and then the bronze (the ‘what’) to come to a full understanding and acceptance. Then, you’ll feel like a real champ!