The Art of Whypost by Chris Curran on June 2, 2009
Many of the words associated with information technology reflect the long-standing focus on how to do things. Software engineering, methodology, use cases, BPM, governance, and workflow are just some examples. This makes sense because IT is complex and focusing on getting better is part of the challenge.
With this as a backdrop, think about some of the questions that you discuss with other parts of the business. Maybe some of these will sound familiar:
- Why can’t we get our products to market faster?
- How can I use it to better engage our customers?
- Are we investing in the right things?
- What it projects should we do?
None of these questions beg a deep dive into how the problem will be solved. They are all forms of Why questions. Unfortunately, many of us fall back on the old standby - boxes and arrows. This is because, to our core, we are How people. We have grown up in IT as action oriented, process centric, software (or infrastructure) engineers. I’ve been accused of trying to design solutions in meetings focused on understanding problems. If you’ve her had someone say “let’s not try to design the solution right now” to one of your suggestions, I’m right there with you. (I usually retort “it’s iterative design” - oh well.)
I finally decided to try to get better at the Why part of my game.
Conversations or Presentations?
One place the Why or How question is front and center is when you are preparing for a meeting. Many people treat all meetings as How meetings. These meetings are very 1-sided, as in “let me tell you about how we did this” or “here’s how we can solve this problem.”
I have been annoyed by what I call the “8-point font” presentations or what others call “death by Powerpoint.” I have come to the conclusion, aided by many others, that these presentations are made by people who have not practiced the “Art of Why.”
I believe that Why-oriented meetings, in contrast, are very conversational and seek to understand the opportunity, situation and context at hand. They ask a lot of Why questions. Here are some examples of Why questions that I have heard CIOs ask:
- Why would a customer want to use our website?
- Why are we introducing so many customized products?
- Why do we have so many governance committees?
Each of these questions seeks to understand a given situation in a broader context and promotes conversation, engagement and eventually, trust.
I mentioned that many others have influenced my desire to better understand the Art of Why. Most of the reading I have done has been centered on developing better presentations and visual communication. Here are some of the good books I can recommend:
- The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam. This book is the basis for a class I developed for our firm on picking the right time for Powerpoint and the right time for discussion and whiteboarding.
- Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth slides were designed by Nancy’s firm.
- Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds
- Advanced Presentations by Design, by Andrew Abela. This book does a great job of distinguishing presentation from board room style discussions.
These books are just scratching the surface as they are just dealing with presentations. There is much more to learn in developing great questions, communication styles, etc.
I think that adding more Why-oriented conversations can make us all better communicators, listeners and problem-solvers.