Why Ask Why?

In The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies, Peter Bregman writes about the process of asking questions:

During his meeting with the front desk staff, [Michael Newcombe] learned they were slower than usual in checking in guests because rooms weren’t available. Then, in his meeting with housekeeping staff, someone asked if the hotel was running low on king size sheets. Most CEOs wouldn’t be interested in that question, but Michael asked why. Well, the maid answered, it’s taking us longer to turn over rooms because we have to wait for the sheets. So he kept asking questions to different employee groups until he discovered that one of the dryers was broken and waiting for a custom part. That reduced the number of available sheets. Which slowed down housekeeping. Which reduced room availability. Which delayed guests from checking in.

He fixed the problem in 24 hours. A problem he never would have known about without open communication with all his employees.

The process of inquiry (vicara) driven by desire for truth and communal benefit is very powerful. We often become content with superficial explanations and avoid deeper reasoning. The example above demonstrates the effectiveness of such a process. It is comparable, if not identical to, the dialectical (Socratic) methods in philosophy.

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