by Dave Berkus, TCA Chairman emeritus

This is a trick headline. 

There can be three “whys” or twenty, depending upon the issue and the responses.  To make the point, the word “why” has to be one of the more powerful words in your vocabulary.  Asking the question forces the other person to think beyond the usual “what” that generated your first “why.”

It sure is a way to get to the bottom of an issue. 

“I just reduced the number of ad words we’re paying for.”  “Why?” “They weren’t paying off in enough revenue.” “Why?” “Well, all we could measure is dollars of revenue against cost for clicks.” “Why?” “Well, we have no way to know which other ad words might have done a better job of conversion into revenue.” “Why?” “We have no-one on staff with enough knowledge of marketing to distinguish words from phrases, or with experience to know how to capture clicks into conversions.” “Why?”  “We’ve never thought this to be an important part of our marketing effort.” “Why?” “We just don’t know what we don’t know.  Will you stop asking ‘why’?”

How revealing!

[Email readers, continue here…]  There is no better way to get to the bottom of an issue than this.  In the case above, lack of performance was caused by lack of knowledge, and inability to find resources to help.  A good manager-questioner might conclude that a small expenditure with a consultant might pay off in great rewards, before abandoning the use of ad words entirely because of the comment from the subordinate.

Here’s a great exercise.

Practice your listening skills with one or more attempts at the five “why’s” and see if you find insights into answers to problems that might not have been obvious without your queries.