Famous for 15 minutes

We care about technology-enhanced human systems. So we thought we would share regular thoughts and opinions about why we think they matter so much.

The lost art of asking why

Songwriters use it brilliantly, scientists build theories around it and children relentlessly ask it. Again. And again. But when it comes to the business world, our experience is that many people have lost the art of asking ‘why?’. Why? We believe the simple answer is because in today’s world of instant and now, we’ve grown to more automatically focus on the quick-wins of ‘what’ and ‘how’.  

Children have a fantastic ability to ask the most basic of questions without fear of ridicule. They ask because they have an appetite for knowledge. Yes, it can get annoying at the 25th why of the day, but their natural curiosity is something we should encourage, enjoy and revel in their wonderment.

But children change, and are changed, as they grow up. And the world changes around them. Now more rapidly than at any other time in the history of humankind. And many of us seem to pretty much completely lose the art of asking why. Is it the fear of looking daft? Is it the worry of getting something wrong? Is it pure impatience? Maybe a bit of all three.

We see businesses large and small, global and local, try and deliver what they think is right. We hear them asking us how they should build a tech solution. And these two questions are valid, but they are not the compass by which you can navigate your way to the right solution.

Over the past 2 years or so we’ve been doing a lot of reflection as a business, as individuals too, and we’ve found our common purpose in our ‘Dare to Care’ – our business ‘why’ that sits around our drive to deliver solutions that smooth the human – technology interface.

Understanding our ‘why’ (in no small part inspired by the work of Simon Sinek) has opened so many other thoughts and points of insight, from the moving personal perspective of Viktor Frankl as a Holocaust Survivor (“He who has a ‘why’ to live for, can bear with almost any ‘how’” – Man’s search for Meaning) and even to the “5 whys technique” concepted by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota Industries) in the 1950s.

But what we’ve also come to realise is that we, as a business, have always naturally strived to understand the ‘why’ of our clients and their requirements. Sometimes that makes for difficult conversations when we’re not comfortable taking instructions at simple face value, but we believe our long-standing client relationships and strength of bond with key individuals comes from this approach.

Invest time in understanding the ‘why’ and you have a compass by which to navigate to a true direction. Understand your ‘why’ and you have a  consistent lens through which to evaluate your outcomes and measure your successes. We believe in this so much we’ve created a framework that we think will work for any organisation – particularly those making tech-related decisions.

In a world where action is demanded yesterday and decisions need to be made quickly, we believe that asking ‘why?’ is like pressing a much-needed pause button. It gives everyone time to think clearly and get things right first time. Conversely, the ‘why’ pause button drives quality and saves those most precious of business commodities – time and money.

We’re not child-like, but we always ask ‘why’ because we’re not afraid of looking daft or getting something wrong. We love asking those tricky questions and seeking out the problems, because to us, the answer to any technology challenge always begins with why


p.s. We're running an interactive workshop on "The lost art of asking 'why?'" at the next Resourcing Leaders Virtual Summit (20th-22nd October) - if you'd like to come along then drop me a line (alex@harbourats.com) and I'll see what I can do :)


Blog post by Alex

Bleep bloop bleep