The wisdom of "Whys"

It's wise to ask 'why?'


Patients who ask “why ?” are part of a revolution in health care.  As it gathers momentum, we will manage our own health using digital data.


Shareholders who keep asking “why ?” are changing the basis of governance and rewards in board rooms from week to week. They may change the boundaries of the organisation and redefine assumptions about transaction costs and principle agent dilemmas.


Employees who ask “why ?” before applying themselves to a task are forcing senior managers to redefine the way they delegate.  This may change the nature of communication in organisations.


A few years ago, in a social experiment, researchers approached the front of a line (queue) and pushed in.  When they only said “I have to go first”, it didn’t work out very well. 


But, when they explained why, “I have to go first because I have an important job to complete (or a plane to catch)”, then people in the queue (line) were much more accommodating.  The interesting thing was that “I have to go first, because I’m in a hurry” worked almost as well. 


As a generation of employees (born in about 1980-2000 and labelled Generation Y, funnily enough) bring their need to be informed to the workplace, they will do more for openness and management accountability than any number of regulatory procedures. 


McGregor’s Theory Y is based on the idea that work is as natural as play, that people will commit to work and seek responsibility, instead of Theory X shunning work and avoiding responsibility.  Explaining ‘why’ develops trust as well.


The Five Whys (or more if you prefer) is an approach to get to the heart of a problem. 


Are ‘whys’ the way to be wise?  Interestingly, wisdom has the same Latin root as vision and guidance.

rss : Ian Stokes, Project Leader and Advisor

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