“Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
–Alice in wonderland
“Why is the moon called the moon?”
“Why do we eat vegetables?”
“Why can’t we paint on the walls?”
Yesterday, I’m almost certain that my four-year-old daughter asked me four hundred questions. That’s not an exaggeration; her curiosity knows no bounds. She wants to know how nature works. She wants to know how technology works. She wants to know about why our pets die and why people die and why the earth is in space. Those of you who are parents know exactly the feeling of being bombarded, and we all eventually reach the breaking point and respond “because it just is!”
Ultimately, one of the most powerful words in the human language is “why?” With a single syllable, you can elicit a host of additional information. Kids are amazing at asking “why.” There is no embarrassment or judgment or shame with the question; just a need to know and a need to understand. Its how children are able to glean so much from the world and ultimately transition into being learners. However, somewhere along the path, we forgot the power of why. In the latter grades of school, exploration becomes rewarded less than getting the “right” answer, and that is encapsulated in test scores. There might be a shame associated with not knowing something that appears to be common sense to others, so we don’t ask. Our parents might signal to us that we need to start living conventionally rather than exploring. We end up evolving into adults who are generally less curious and more compliant.
Ultimately, we forget to ask “why.”
Thankfully, this skill is not lost to us. It is, after all, just a single syllable. As adults, though, it takes bravery to utter that syllable. One of the cornerstones of having a strong learning attitude is to be willing to make a bit of a fool of yourself by sometimes asking those dumb questions and embracing that fact. It can, in fact, build a better culture for learning amidst feelings of compliant. Try experimenting and asking “why” in a small team setting, and even being clear that you are seeking to question assumptions to help yourself learn. Gauge the reaction, and perhaps you will find that others haven’t thought about it before.
If asking the “why” question is uncomfortable to you, practice asking yourself “why.” Observe something in the environment that annoys you or irritates you and ask “why?” I hate doing laundry and rewash my clothes multiple times; why can’t their be an integrated washer/dryer so you don’t have to switch your laundry? Turns out there is, but it’s not particularly effective. Even so, the line of questioning could help you find something that you didn’t know existed, or even create something that no one has ever done.