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Cardboard cut-outs of question marks

"Why" can act as a much-needed natural speed bump when we're running full speed ahead. | Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

The Power of “Why”


Published on January 25, 2022


If you’ve spent any length of time with a young child, you’ve been treated to their favorite question … over and over again: “Why? Why? But, why?” While this incessant chatter might drive a parent up the wall, this kid might actually be onto something.

“Why?” Why?

Well, it’s the verbal invitation of opening up a door. It is permission to embrace curiosity and wonder. It is the key to a growth mindset. And, it invites other people on that journey of discovery with you.

If you want to expand the way you think about and approach your work, and you appreciate being challenged, “why” should sit on your shoulder. It is a fundamental building block to deeper conversations, and an opportunity to explore complicated issues. When it comes to mindful communication, “why” cuts right to the core. 

It is, arguably, the most powerful question you can ask. Yet, we don’t think much about the value this simple three-letter word can offer. 

Give in to Curiosity

Let’s face it: That child-turned-broken-record doesn’t put much stock into asking “why?” But having a sense of curiosity explored by asking “why” is actually very healthy. People who are curious are less likely to lean into confirmation bias and are more willing to consider alternative options.

We don’t know what we don’t know — and there’s nothing wrong with not knowing! In a world where accepting things “just because” is commonplace, asking “why” requires courage and vulnerability. But if we don’t take the time to ask and explore “why,” we might not drop down the rabbit holes that lead to clarity and understanding. Sometimes those paths lead to dead ends, but even then, we often learn something along the way.

Intentionality in any format — whether it’s through a yogic practice or making a decision that requires willpower — grounds people in the present moment. They aren’t just going through the motions, dwelling on the past, or thinking about the future. Intentionally taking the time to pause and ask “why” is a quick and easy way to bring yourself into this moment, right here and right now.

Questions to ask:

  • Why do we do it this way?
  • Why don't we try this instead?
  • Why not?

The Forced Pause

We run through our lives at hyperactive speed. We jump from task to task, knocking off to-do items just marginally slower than we create new things to add to the list. There’s a goal, and we will do everything to reach that goal.

When we stop to ask “why,” we have no choice but to stop. It’s a verbal speed bump that interrupts our hurried pace. It forces us to pause — even briefly — and reflect upon what we are doing. This can be something as big as really understanding your company’s mission (see below) to small routines we do “just because” we always have.

We don’t need to ask “why” about everything we do we go about our everyday lives — we’d never get anything done. However, this simple word can shake us out of old habits, force us to reevaluate actions that don’t actually make sense, and help clarify mental clutter.

Questions to ask:

  • Why am I prioritizing this?
  • Why do I do this every day/week/month?
  • Why haven’t I changed this process?

Your Business Purpose

While companies are in the business of selling products and services, people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. Your “why” defines your purpose — the core reason your company exists. No one has outlined this as clearly and cleanly as Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, an excellent resource I highly recommend for any business owner.

Essentially, digging down into why allows you to clearly define your company’s reason for existing. How you deliver that is what sets you apart from other companies. And what you sell are the products and services. In a society increasingly focused on conscious consumerism, asking “why” in defining and growing your business is exponentially important. More than ever, companies must operate from the inside out — the tangible proof of what your company believes in and stands for. 

Beyond helping to define your company’s core purpose, constantly asking “why” in the course of your work guides the way you represent your brand, prioritize social impact initiatives, and interact with other people. 

Questions to ask:

  • Why am I pursuing this product/project/initiative over another one?
  • Why does my company believe these values are important?
  • Why am I communicating this message in this way?

Move Beyond “What”

Unlocking the power of “why” is particularly powerful in the tourism industry. Travelers’ interests have traditionally been focused on where they go and what they are going to do once they arrive there. Introducing why into the traveler experience enhances tourism in three key ways.

First, encouraging travelers to ask “why” when they choose a destination or tour company is that speed bump many people need to evaluate whether they’re only collecting passport stamps. This is an exercise in personal priorities: Are people traveling for their own self-centered desires, or do they genuinely want to use travel as a tool to support local communities and connect with people on a meaningful level?

Additionally, “why” is a potent tool for having better conversations with travelers. It’s common for tour guides to answer travelers' questions — and sometimes these questions are framed for guides to answer “why.” However, this question can also be asked by guides to travelers to encourage more two-way dialogue and engagement.

Finally, for content creators in particular, asking “why” questions opens up a new layer of storytelling. This is where you find the story behind the story — the traditions, customs, habits, and routines that illustrate why people live and work the way they do. This is the story that can’t be mined through desk research.

Questions to ask:

  • Why did you choose to travel to this part of the country?
  • Why do you think we tend to tell the story about this place in this way?
  • Why do you go through this process when you create this art/make this meal/practice this ritual?

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this article.

JoAnna Haugen

JoAnna Haugen is an award-winning writer, speaker, consultant, and solutions advocate. She is also the founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainability, storytelling, and social impact.

Hire her as a consultant or to speak at your next event.


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