December 7, 2018
Remember when you were a kid? You likely asked the question “why” all the time, about anything and everything. It’s definitely my kids’ favourite question:
“Why is it bedtime?”
“Because it’s late and you need your sleep”
“Because sleep gives you energy.”
“Because you need energy to get through the day tomorrow”
“Because I said so!”
Although it drives me bonkers sometimes, it’s forced me to take a step back and remind myself that they need context and history before they can understand a new concept.
As we grow older, for some reason we’re conditioned not to ask “why” as often. Personally, I think we need to remind ourselves that there’s no shame in asking that very fundamental question – it’s how we get to a deeper understanding of things and it’s how we feed our curiosity.
In a hectic work environment, we’re often taught that our job is to go to our bosses or clients with answers rather than questions – with solutions to their problems. I know I’ve been guilty of posting a job description or writing a team member’s review, stating that I’m looking for problem solvers. And of course, that is true, but what I think I sometimes forget is to remind people that the only way to get to the right solution is by asking the right questions.
Here are three simple things we can all do to encourage the use of more questions:
Have fewer answers.
The idea that one should lead by example seems fairly obvious. When your team hits a road block, they may start by coming to you with questions, and I suppose it’s natural to want to ‘save the day’ with an answer. But since we recruit smart people who are more than capable of taking on any challenge, then why not challenge them to unpack and explore their question and see where it takes them.
Bake questions into your process.
You might assume that an ad agency already does this, and you’d be right. We have dozens if not hundreds of questions that go into each brief. And throughout the process we question our thinking and our work, especially when it comes to comparing our outputs back to the brief.
This is always true of medium to large size projects, but on smaller more tactical projects I think we all are guilty of taking some things at face value. Even the smallest task can benefit from first asking the question ‘why’.
Imagine if the ask is to change the colour of a font from blue to green in an ad. This might be a simple task and not many people will question it as it’s well within the client’s brand. But by asking “why” we could dive deeper into the insight that lead to the request. For example, what if a study was recently done that found that our client’s customers prefer green over blue because it makes them feel happier and builds a stronger connection to our brand. Imagine what a strategy and creative team could do with that information, beyond just changing the colour of the font.
Allow for more thinking time.
My kids’ minds are like sponges, soaking up every answer to every question. As adults, we need more time to assimilate new information. Finding the right answer is hard enough, but knowing the right questions to ask takes a great deal of reflection.
With that in mind, we often need to take a step back, get some perspective, come back to the problem, attack it differently, step back again, and repeat the process.
The problem is, this isn’t necessarily ‘billable time’ because when we park things to let them percolate, we often end up working on other things. So if that ‘thinking time’ is not billable, people may think that it’s not important.
As someone who’s responsible for monitoring the bottom line, I’m going to make sure my team knows that we need to add time to our schedule to just think. Let’s channel our inner child, step back to when we were 6 years old, become curious again about anything and everything, have more questions than answers, and be ok with not solving every problem as quickly as possible.
Because if we give more time to questions, our answers may come out just a little bit better.
Why? Because, that’s why!