To Succeed, Dig Down to the Unknown

If you want to succeed, you need to dig down to the unknown.

Imagine you are given a project at work. Chances are, you’re only given a handful of information to start with and you’re supposed to figure out the rest. “We want this result, by this date, with these tools.” If it’s inside your wheelhouse, that should be easy enough, right? Done. The exchange could end right there and everybody could go on with their days slumping down in their chairs in front of their computer screens to work on their various projects…

What if you asked why?

“I’m an artist, this typewriter is my paintbrush and these keys are my paints.”Approach each benchmark of the project as an opportunity to find the intention by asking a follow up question. “Why this result? Why this date? Why these tools?” By doing this, you’re gathering even more information that helps sculpt the way you will approach the problem. Not to mention,you’re gathering more information to sculpt your unique perspective and execution of the goals at hand, which is the entire reason you’re being given the task in the first place.

That’s often not as easy as it sounds. Asking “why?” can often be seen as a contradictory challenge to authority, despite your intentions to simply do your job better. Try reframing to help bridge the information gap, and you’ll get the information you’re looking for. “We need these results because we’re already down from last quarter, which is why I need it by this date, and you can use these tools because our department just had a majority of our budget cut.” Okay, good enough… or is it?

What if you asked why again?

I know. It sounds crazy, right? Or maybe you’re thinking, “yeah, it’s the three why thing. I know it, I’ve heard it, but it’s unrealistic.” Why is it unrealistic? (See what I did there?) DO IT. Ask why! Ask “why?” a third time and see what the hell happens. You might get looked at a little weird. They’re probably gonna think you’re being unnecessarily annoying. But I promise you this, they’re going to give you an answer. They’ll either know the answer to the third “why?” or they’ll say some variation of “I don’t know.”

It’s in that third “why?” that you find your opportunity, because with three layers of information anybody can accomplish a simple task. But nobody, nobody, can accomplish the unknown like you can. When your superior says, “I don’t know,” that really means “you tell me.” That’s your opportunity to shine. It’s your turn to answer the “why?” question.

I guess there is another possible answer your superior could give you in response to the third “why?” They could discover this particular project does not need to be accomplished by you, thus saving the company valuable time and resources. And you can cross one more thing off your “to do” list. Way to go, you!

If you can find the intention of a project more than just the parameters, if you can discover the solution to the unknown, you are far more likely to succeed.

Today, try asking why? more. Let’s see what happens.



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