Ask Why


Cover Image for Ask Why

Understanding why someone thinks, says or does something is critical.

Doing so shines a light on their motivations, values, and priorities. It shows you their reasoning -whether it's sound or full of holes and shortcomings. It brings clarity to thought and helps us understand one another.

Ask why, then listen. You'll find yourself understanding more and judging less (but more accurately).

Here are some why questions I regularly ask as a software development manager:

  • Why are we taking everyone's precious time in this meeting?
  • Why are we building feature X? And why is it more important than feature Y?
  • Why do we have that process?
  • Why was, or wasn't, this project successful?

And when hiring:

  • You're passionate about JavaScript? Why is that?
  • Why did you quit that job, or take that other job?
  • Why are you looking for a new job now?
  • Why do you want to work with us and our products, specifically?

And when parenting:

  • Why are you filling that bowl with maple syrup?
  • Why is there poop on the floor? (this actually just happened)
  • Why are you painting on the walls instead of on the canvas we purchased for you?
  • Why am I losing my shit again? (no, I was not the one that pooped on the floor)

Ask Yourself

That last question is a nice segue to my final point. Guess who you should be asking the why question to most? Yourself. To be your best self, you need to understand your motivations and keep them in check. You need to challenge yourself to be able to articulate a sound answer to why you think, say, and do the things you think, say, and do. You'll start to see holes in your own line of reasoning earlier, before they do too much damage. You'll communicate more effectively, and make better decisions. It'll also help you focus on what's important.

Consider this scenario: my kids destroy my house, then I lose my shit. I need to ask myself why I responded that way. Because deep down, I know that speaking to my children lovingly, yet firmly (and teaching them to do the same) is more important than having a clean house, but my harsh over-reaction didn't reflect that.

Asking myself why helps me focus on what really matters and change my behavior accordingly.

Why This Blog

Now, I'll put my own advice into practice. I've created this blog and this is my first post. Why am I blogging?

  • to share my ideas, projects, and experiences with the hope of helping others
  • to document the notes I'm taking as I'm reading & learning
  • to become a better writer
  • to build something ... simply because I like building things
  • to do all this publicly to keep me honest and accountable