What my kids taught me by asking “why"

WRITTEN BY DAN SALVA

When my kids were little, they drove me nuts with one simple question. “Why?”

It wasn’t that I resented the question. It was great to be part of their process of absorbing the world. It was the string of “why’s” that drove me to the brink.

“Why does the dog have a bowl?"

“Because that’s where we put her water."

“Why?"

“Because it’s easy for her to get a drink."

“Why?"

"Because she uses her tongue to drink."

“Why?"

“Because she doesn’t have hands like you and I."

“Why?"

To infinity. If you are a parent, you know.

What my kids taught me

It used to drive me nuts. Now years later, I find myself assigning incredible value in the “why” game.

If you’re discovering your Big Audacious Meaning (brand purpose), “why” can be the most powerful questions you ask. And not just once. Like my kids taught me. You need to ask “why” at least 5 times.

The 5 “why’s"

Officially, the 5 “Why’s" technique was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System. It’s a pretty fair bet that he had kids.


Ohno developed the technique as a systematic problem-solving tool. It helped go beyond the symptoms to getting to the root cause of the problem. So, when you addressed the problem, you weren’t just putting a band-aid on it. You were developing a solution that would really solve it.

What’s that have to do with my Big Audacious Meaning?

The 5 “Why’s” is a powerful tool in the search for your Big Audacious Meaning. But in this application, we’re not using the technique to get to the root of problem. Instead, we’re using it to uncover the most profound difference you will make in a life, a community, or even the world.

I’ve used the technique for organizations of all sizes. Both for profit and not-for-profit. It's simplicity makes it universal. And powerful.

Asking why helps you get past the short-term and functional goals. You can start by asking, “Why do you exist?” It’s not unusual to get an answer like, “To maximize our shareholders’ value.” Or, “To help our customers solve their problems.” Neither of these is the ultimate answer we're looking for. But they are valid as a start. Now we just need to keep asking “why” to get to that Big Audacious Meaning.

Here is an example of a series of “why’s” that we explored with Kansas City Young Audiences. The organization promotes the developmental power that the arts provide in children’s lives. Here is how our 5 “Why’s” exploration went:

  1. Why does Kansas City Young Audiences exist?
    To creatively engage kids in learning through the arts.
  2. Why?
    So they can build critical thinking, communication, & collaboration skills.
  3. Why?
    So they can discover new ways to think and learn.
  4. Why?
    So they can experience the spark - that transformative “a-ha” moment when they grasp an idea or discover a new talent.
  5. Why?
    So they can carry that spark out into the world and transform lives that they touch.

The Big Audacious Meaning for Kansas City Young Audiences was ultimately crafted as this: "To help kids experience the transformative power of the arts so they can carry that spark out into the world and transform lives that they touch."

We could have stopped anywhere along the way in this process and called that our purpose. But it would not have been as profound. It would not have been a Big Audacious Meaning.

Ask those who know

You have to ask “why” at least 5 times. Those who have been through it know. I can point you to some incredible companies I've worked with who have discovered this. They will tell you the power is undeniable.

Or you can ask any three year old.

 

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at dsalva@willgrail.com.