But Why?

Published October 14, 2016 by monika

I once overheard a conversation that went like this:

Small child: Why mummy?

Mum: Pauses and takes deep breath…

child: Is it just because mummy?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that as children we all go through the ‘Why?’ phase. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as the ‘But whyyyyyyyyyyy?’ phase.

But what does this have to do with impact?

We dismiss the child’s questioning as an irritating phase to get through. When you have heard the question why for the thousandth time before breakfast, this is understandable. But perhaps we forget about how engaging critically with what is happening around us can help us to understand what’s going on. For a small child nothing that grown ups do make sense. How the world works doesn’t make sense. Before you understand gravity the idea that things always fall to the floor may be rather marvellous. And after you understand gravity you don’t think about it anymore. Mostly. Perhaps we should.

The child is constantly trying to make sense of why things that are happening, are happening. It is a similar process when we start a new job, or work in a place and get a new colleague. The new colleague will ask ‘why?’ If our answer is ‘just because’ then it seems likely we haven’t analysed the impact of what we’re doing for a while. Do we understand the change our activity is making? Are we having the effect that we want to have?

The ‘why’ phase of starting a new job typically ends about 3 months in. So any time we have a new colleague we have a 3 month window of using their fresh eyes to evaluate what we are doing. If we can manage to explore the benefits of our outputs when the question is asked without getting defensive, then this process could be incredibly useful.

And if there is a recruitment-freeze where you are, and you can’t benefit from a new colleague to bring fresh eyes to your processes, outputs and outcomes, then take some time out to challenge the obvious and ask yourself. “Is this still the best way of doing things?” and “what change is this activity actually making?”