WHY? Three different questions.

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threeWHY_sAs the entrepreneur, once you have reached a decision, you often will have to describe and defend “WHY” it’s going to be successful.

“WHY?” One word but three completely different questions.

1. Rationale:

You need to answer the overarching “Why?” question by articulating the potential benefits to different audiences, including financiers, suppliers, potential clients, and your staff.

The rationale is detailed (hopefully) in a business and management plan that describes the idea, its validation, and the operational action plan to implement successfully.

2. Challenge:

Stakeholders who ask you the question “Why?”  are directly challenging part or all of your rationale and conclusion.

 “Why?” as a challenge question can be very difficult to answer whether planning to start a new business, convincing a new client, or simply completing a project successfully.

A potential client or employee asking why…why…why forces you to better justify whatever you’re trying to sell.

Someone who repeatedly asks “why” is apprehensive about your initial answers. It is critical to negate their concerns if you’re going to be successful.

With employees, if you need to resort to “because I’m the boss and I said so,” the idea is weak or you haven’t communicated your idea well.

Expect to get hit with the “why” challenge repeatedly.  Even after you think the “why” question has been exhausted, the variations often continue:

  • Why did you say that / do that / think that?

  • Why won’t you? Why can’t I?

  • Why did others react that way?

  • Why will “it” be successful?

  • Why are you interested in this category, company, location?

  • And the every popular: Why don’t you _________?

Tell me more” and “What else?” are just demands to answer the initial “Why?” question in more detail. 

I once asked a potential supplier “tell me more” five times about something they were selling that they thought was fairly mundane. It wasn’t mundane to me, however, since there were risks to change to this product, even though “inexpensive” I needed to know why.

Feel free to ask yourself “Why not?” to help make a decision.

Here’s a simple but effective “Why?” and “Why not?” exercise. Provide three bulleted answers for each of these questions.

  • “Why?” List in priority the three biggest benefits of your decision.

  • “Why Not?” Follow with another prioritized list of the three key negatives and/or risks.

I’ve found that you should proceed if you look at the risks and negatives you generated with this “Why Not” question and:

  • They’re acceptable (meaning you and your business can survive if the idea doesn’t work), AND

  • They are less important than the potential benefits you listed for the “Why” question, AND

  • You believe that the positives are more likely to happen than the negatives.

By answering the challenging question “Why?,”  you support the conclusion and it provides specific rationale and attempts to bring all stakeholders into harmony.

3. Rebuttal and affirmation:

This is your top-level summary. After answering the specific requests for more information and justification, quickly recap your idea and summarize what you learned in the “Why” / “Why not?” exercise.

This repeats the essence of your argument why your idea will be successful while both quickly acknowledging and deflating the challenges which have been raised. CAUTION: While your emphasize is on the positives, you must be trusted to have heard each of the challenges.

This approach using 3 different types of “Why” questions should bring your stakeholders into harmony.


Richard-SellersEQlist contributor Richard Sellers is a volunteer counselor for SCORE helping small businesses in upstate New York, Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of the Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and Marketing Corporation of America. You can follow his communications about marketing, social media, job search and careers at mengonline, shellypalmer and on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard and also here on #EQlist ENTREPRENEURS QUESTIONS.


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