Why? What? How? Why it’s good to question yourself.

One place I consistently see people struggle is in creating an approach or work-plan for attacking a given problem. Often you see people try and drive straight to solutions without putting in the thinking or time to comprehend their motivations, goals or even where they are today.

But We Know What We Know!

I think a major reason for this is people tend to assume that they already know what’s happened, or what the strategy is or what their motivations are but the truth is, unless you have a clear, concise and CONSISTENT way of expressing those positions or goals you, and the people you work with, will never be as effective at delivering on your vision.

Often the difference between just ‘barely making it’ and ‘nailing it’ lies in the details and a nuanced understanding of what it is you’re trying to achieve.

Question Everything

Bringing together your plan, and developing your vision, is like an investigation – you need to uncover and document the facts and then understand how they relate to each other. And what do investigators do? They ask question, lots of them.

The truth is, every vision, strategy or work-plan is rooted in questions:

“Where/What do we want our company to be in the future?”

“What results do we want to see in 5 years?”

“How are we going to get this done?”

But if you stop and think about these questions, you’ll quickly realize that all these questions really do is bring more questions to mind.

“Where/What do we want our company to be in the future?” – “Well, what is important to us?” – What’s important to our customers?” … … …

Questions Structure & Guide Your Thinking

Coming up with the questions you need to answer is the fastest route to coming up with a plan of attack – the art is in understanding what order you need to answer the questions. Obviously, you can answer any question any time but you may not be coming to the best conclusion if you haven’t answered the right questions before hand you need to be  deliberate in how you approach your questions .

As you start to document the questions you need answered and get them in the right order, your plan of attack will emerge quite clearly – start at the first thing you know and work down!

Why? What? How?

Next time you need to structure your thinking, try this approach:

  1. Take a sheet of paper (or a whiteboard/flipchart) – split it into thirds and write “Why?”, “What?”, and “How?” in the three boxes from top to bottom.
  2. The “What?” should be the easy one – this is what you’re trying to accomplish, define or understand. Write your question down in the middle of that section. (i.e. “What is our Vision For 2020”)
  3. Now focus on the “Why?” section. These are questions of understanding and reflection. Ask yourself “What do I need to know in order to competently answer my question. Write them on post-it notes so they can easily be rearranged.Working in a group? Take a minute and brainstorm individually, tell people to be as granular and specific as possible when posing their questions. When they’re done, post up the post-its and cluster them based on the underlying root question behind them.  Rewrite those root questions on a new post-it and use it going forward. Be sure to save the specific questions though – they’ll likely come in handy when you start to answer the question.
  4. Looking at your Why? questions ask yourself, what do I need to understand before I can go any further? These questions will typically be your root motivations, or the motivations of people you play a key role in whatever you’re developing. Put that question at the top of the page. If there’s things that can be answered in parallel that’s okay, put them side-by-side. Continue through your questions until they’re all in order – being aware of how answering the questions helps build on your thinking.
  5. Now move to the “How?” – How questions are questions of process and doing. Repeat the same process you did with the “Why’s?” Only this time ask yourself all the questions you need to answer in order to actually deliver on your “What?” – the reality of the How section is you will ask all kinds of questions “Who needs to be involved?”, “Where do we stand today?” You’re planning for a trip from A to Z – there’s lots of questions to be answered!
  6. Once you’ve got your questions in order, step back and read them aloud – do they flow right? If you answered those questions in that order does the story they tell make sense? If so, congratulations – you’ve now got a great framework of investigation to work (& plan) from!

If you give this a go – I’d love to hear how you make out… let me know in the comments below!