Too much time is wasted trying to figure out “why” things are the way they are. This approach is a luxury, diverting attention and energy away from actually getting positive results.
The idea behind it sounds icily logical – if you know why you became the way you are, then you can fix it. Knowing what made you broke should, in theory, help to figure out how to correct the problem. Finding out why things went wrong in the past seems like a logical step towards putting them right in the future.
But we all know people who have said, over and over again, “I know why I’m like this, I just can’t seem to stop”. People who are aware of why they spend all their money instead of save or invest it, who practice self-destructive behavior due to abuse as a child, or for any of a million reasons persist in taking action that does them no good, all the while in complete possession of the facts.
Not only that, but there are too many situations in life where we can never fully know ‘why’. So putting too much importance on a factor that might never be known can work against us when we realize that and then don’t know what else to do.
I suggest you transform the problem completely, and forget about ‘why’. Focus on something you know you can learn, such as ‘when’, or ‘what’. Go through the journalist’s W5 – When? What? Who? Where? Why? – and leave ‘why’ for last. You’ll never get there because you’ll have solved the problem by then. You might ask ‘how’ too, but that’s usually solved by asking ‘what’ or ‘when’ first anyway.
Let me come at this from a slightly different angle so you understand this fully. I’m going to relate an incident that involved a software designer trying to figure out why there was a problem in a program.
Yevgeny Karasik was asked if he could correct an issue for an online casino. They had a video camera set up over a roulette wheel, and customers could place bets online by watching the wheel through live video on their computer. The problem was that sometimes, the video would freeze. The problem usually happened when a customer double-clicked on the video player before the video had completely loaded.
I don’t keep any records of customer information about who buys The Right Question, because a buyer’s privacy is important to them and therefore important to me, so I don’t know if Karasik has bought my book or not. But I can tell you that he used the Question in solving that problem.
He saw that there was nothing in the code which would suggest why the player on a customer’s computer would freeze. It was clean, logically-written code, no problems with it. So in his own words, “But then it entered my mind that instead of searching for answer to this question (which may never be found) I better forbid clicking on video at the very moment that it appears.”
He had analyzed the code and found no errors. He determined that the reason why the player might freeze on a customer’s computer was a factor out of his control and might never be known, but he had to solve the problem anyway. So he turned his attention to when the problem started, not why, and engineered an answer.
He inserted a line of code immediately before the one telling the video to become active which disabled mouse clicks on video, and inserted a line of code after it which enabled the mouse again. Problem solved. The code disabled the mouse, loaded the video, and once the video had loaded, enabled mouse clicks on the video again so the player could be used.
Karasik never did find out why, but he solved the problem, got paid, and moved on. In his own words, “Most real life problems are not solved as stated but first transformed.”
In your own life, you’ve suffered setbacks and problems, and you may have thought it was logical to find out why you turned out the way you are. I’m telling you, looking for ‘why’ is a waste of time and it is taking attention away from you solving the problem, getting paid, and moving on. Finding out why doesn’t tell you what you think it does.
Besides, as I stated earlier and as we’ll explore in another article, knowing why things went wrong for you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to fix them.
I spend a lot of time talking about this issue in The Right Question, with examples of how the search for ‘why’ does nothing but derail you and take your energy away from the pursuit of your objective. Even when the search for motive in a crime is of paramount importance, you can’t find out why by sitting around staring at the ceiling.
In the meantime, if you’re still convinced that looking for ‘why’ is a good use of your time, think about the best way to prove me wrong – download The Right Question, right now, and analyze my logic. You can use it to solve coding issues as Karasik did, or make your first (or second, or third…) million.