One day I observed one of my grandsons interact with his mom. She had just made a comment about something, and it sparked his curiosity. His first response was to place his little palms on each side of her face and turn her face toward his determined gaze.
Then he said in a very innocent way (and of course sweetly, like all grandchildren), “Why mommy, why?”
I remember all three of our boys when they were young would often ask the why question, as well as all of our grandchildren. And I’m sure you have experienced this in your own children and/or observed it in other children.
In fact, sometimes their insistent why questions seem a bit like the drip, drip, drip of an ancient water torture.
Everyone can learn more by adopting and encouraging the childlike practice of asking “Why?”.
Why do children use such a profound question, why, and with such innocence?
An early connection
Between ages 2 and 3, children develop the cognitive ability to make logical connections between things, and they…
- Are curious and eager to explore this fascinating world.
- Want to explore with the people they feel the safest around and love the most.
- Really want to learn and understand why things happen.
- Ask, “Why?”, which reflects a thirst and interest for knowledge because they want more information.
- Use these new critical skills that help them gain a much more complex understanding of how the world works – via what they see, hear and do.
- Learn that the more they ask, “Why?”, the more they learn.
So why do kids ask so many questions – and why do they eventually stop?
A great start
Children start off endlessly asking the why question then gradually ask fewer and fewer why questions as they progress through grade school.
A Newsweek story, “The Creativity Crisis”, described the signs of declining creativity among our school children.
The article cited an interesting fact that preschool kids ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. WOW!
A troubling development
However by middle school, they’ve basically stopped asking questions. It is also around this time student motivation and engagement drops like a rock.
Why? It was found that our educational system rewarded students for having the answer, not for asking good questions – an answers-driven school system.
Knowing the answers to questions will help you in school. Knowing how to ask questions will help you in life.
– Warren Berger
It’s sad that as adults we carry this answer-driven way into our personal and work life, and we don’t do very well at asking the powerful, one word question, “Why?”.
Why > what and how
In our modern society, people always tend to ask the “what” and “how” questions first. They feel they are more important than any other question.
However, those who really make a difference ask why first and then go on to figure out the best what and how.
The why brings you to find the best “whats” and “hows” because the why is your passion applied toward what you are doing.
And we bring into the workplace the lack of asking the why question. In most organizations, the bosses manage and employees do what they’re told.
However, that thinking is counter-productive because we as leaders have employees who don't know why their doing what they are doing. And the why provides the motivation and reasons behind what they are doing.
Plus, we have people on the front-line, who often bring better ideas forward because they challenge traditional practices. Innovation and creativity are not the exclusive domain of leadership.
So as leaders, we should pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask “Why?”, because they are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could position them as future leaders within your organization.
Leaders should encourage employees to offer their suggestions and then give their ideas serious consideration.
As adults and as leaders, let’s learn from children and ask perhaps the most important question, “Why?”.
Have you stopped asking the question, why? As a leader, how are you encouraging your employees to ask the question, why? Please share your comments <here>, and share this blog post with your family, friends, and co-workers.