Are you asking why or are you asking when?

Most of us get into a groove. And we think we know what we’re doing. We think the people around us know what they’re doing. And we begin to trust in the greater good. We begin to get ever so lazy. We think that people have out best interests at heart.

But you see, that’s not always the case.

I’m a big fan of arguing “can versus should.”

That argument? Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do something. Or as the quintessential parents always say, “If Billy jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Well, I’ve now happened upon yet another testing phrase: Why versus When.

You see, urgency is a huge driver in business. Huge.

We live in a fire drill existence.

Do this. Get it done. We need it by the end of the day. The people are coming in next week. The client wants it now. The CEO has to present this to the board. The event is going to be here before you know it. We need to report to the Street. Get the early-bird discount. Book early. The Web site needs to be updated. The code has to ship.

Now. Yesterday. Get it done. Now. Did I mention we need it now?

Here’s the thing: If you’re always asking “when” something needs to be done, you’re not asking “why” it needs to be done.

And that can be scary. It takes guts to tell everyone to stop and think. Especially when it’s your superiors. The people you trust. But you have to work to do it.

Why? (I’m so glad you asked!)

If you spend more time asking “why” something needs to be done, then you may discover:

  1. It doesn’t actually need to be done, at all.
  2. It isn’t as urgent as everyone thought.
  3. It is actually counterproductive to another–more critical–effort.
  4. It would be more powerful if combined with another activity.
  5. It hasn’t been well designed, thought through, or planned.
  6. The urgency is misplaced.
  7. The urgency is a symptom of a larger problem.
  8. Your boss is telling you its urgent because s/he asked “When?” instead of “Why?”
  9. It would be better to take a different tact.
  10. No one knows why it is urgent.

And here’s another tip: “Because [name] said so!” isn’t a valid answer.

I’m willing to bet that 90% of the fire drills you’re currently chasing don’t need to be fire drills. And I know you know that.

But start asking “Why?” It may not resolve the problem, but it will start illuminating the environment in which you work. And it will give you a better understanding of what drives the business.

And it will give you more context as to whether the urgency is moving in the right direction or is misplaced.

Or if you’re misplaced.

Because when it comes right down to it, the half-ass work that gets cranked out under duress is going to be your work. Not the people pushing you to do the work. Your work. And the urgency is never a decent recursive excuse.

“But don’t you remember we were in a big hurry?”

Nope. That becomes “No, I don’t remember that, but I do see that this reads like crap,” or worse yet, “Well, why didn’t you plan ahead?”

And that’s the one “Why?” you don’t want to get.

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Can vs. Should, Corporate Culture, Fear, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Are you asking why or are you asking when?

  1. Pingback: Moonlighting Revisited, sans Cybil and Bruce | More than a living

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