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The Most Annoying Question on Earth

Why? One of my grandsons learned to say, “Why?” soon after he learned to say, “No!” and well before “Please.” He is a sweet boy whom I love dearly, but, frankly, I find his single-word reply to whatever answer I may give annoying. Too often, I end up replying, as my father before me, “Just because.”

Why? Because “Why?” is both inquisitive and challenging. At the same time, it asks to know more and it accuses its target of holding back, of giving an insufficient answer.

Why is this the lead for an Automation World blog? Because “Why?” is simply the most important question that can be asked. Why? Because it is both inquisitive and challenging. Because it is unsatisfied. Because it demands thought and commitment to an informed opinion.

Why answer “Why?” when “How?” is much easier. After all, “How?” deals in facts, not opinions. Augmenting a thorough “How?” answer with a “What?” answer makes for consistent bids, consistent deliverables, and iron-clad specifications. We, the experts, know that if you will just do this with that at a low price that we will be happy and you will get paid.

“Why?” asks some control system integrator engineer who has obviously not matured beyond four, and whose experience is not with your process, but from other industries entirely, “Why do that?”

Why not just answer, “Because… that’s how we do it here?” True, it is easy to waste time explaining something to someone who knows much less. But, it is also true that game-changing improvements come from individuals unencumbered by detailed knowledge.

Why do I ask “Why?” First, to satisfy my insatiable desire to learn. Second, because I have met many other engineers honest enough to respond, “I don’t know.” As often as not, my contribution is only to question, not to offer an answer. Third, because I have seen results from my asking. Clients reduce cost, eliminate waste, improve quality, or deliver faster.

Why? Because I was either smart enough or dumb enough, take your pick, to ask, “Why?” Perhaps my grandson will be an engineer someday.

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