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  • Writer's pictureBrett Simpson

In my's not always the 'what'​, it's the 'how'​ and 'why'​

How many times do we ask or hear those ‘what’ questions?

…What do you do?

…What can you do for me?

…What do you recommend?

…What did you do to solve that problem?

As a consultant I'm frequently asked, “What does your firm do?”  This is expected and understandable given the decision-making process of potential clients.  In consulting, achieving real differentiation on the ‘what’ is a challenge for all but the largest global firms.  My observation has been that if I can move the conversation beyond the ‘what’ and get to the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, potential clients find that more compelling than the ‘what’, and they want to know more.

We use ‘what’ questions to understand the capabilities of the person we’re talking to.  These questions address curiosity, need or a desire to learn. The breadth and depth of ‘what people do’ are fascinating, and ‘what’ questions are natural entry points for a variety of interactions.

In my experience though, it’s not really the ‘what’ that drives the value, because the ‘what’ can be obvious.  The value comes with the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.  I’ve found that many times there is more value in the ‘how’ followed by the ‘why’, rather than the ‘why’ followed by the ‘how’. 

Think about that. Often, we hear “Why did you do that?” I would rather know “Why did you do it that way?”  Asking the question like that almost always requires explanation and understanding of the ‘how’ along with the ‘why’, which results in extra insight.

This ‘why’ is not to be confused with the bigger ‘why’ we hear a lot which is “Why do you do what you do?” There is an expectation of purpose in that ‘why’, related to intent, inspiration and even strategy.  However, unless you can articulate the smaller ‘why’, “Why do you do it that way?”, the value of the bigger ‘why’ is diminished and is more a dream than reality.

Do you differentiate on the ‘what’, the ‘how’ or the (big or small) ‘why’…or a combination?

Special thanks to key influencers in my professional journey...Jim Simpson, my amazing dad, #1 role model and confidence builder, and to Todd Benson, great friend, outstanding mentor and generous connector.

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