I was driving along the 401 highway the other week and, surprisingly, I was driving along a portion of the highway where it was actually possible to go the speed limit. Now perhaps because myself and other drivers were a bit excited that we were actually able to go faster than gridlock usually allows, most people were going slightly above the posted limit. That pace came to a screeching halt a few kilometers down the road when a new vehicle entered the fray—a vehicle with lights on its hood and an emblem on its door.
The appearance of the police cruiser and the subsequent adherence to the speeding limit by all of those in the cruiser’s vicinity made me think about the most effective means of getting compliance. It’s undeniable that the presence of that police cruiser was a very effective way to reduce everyone’s speed to the posted limit. Very effective until the police cruiser turned off the highway and everyone resumed their previous speed. If the only way to ensure drivers’ compliance to the posted speed limits is the presence of police, it’s easy to see that police resources would quickly get eaten up just patrolling the highways.
If drivers are constantly exceeding the speed limits and have no other motivation to slow down than the fear of getting a speeding ticket, drivers will always exceed the limits if they don’t see any police around. It got me thinking about the recent debate over Melissa Meyer’s controversial decision to ban remote working at Yahoo. While her intentions seem to be related to encouraging collaboration and sharing (both quite integral to the tech industry), many shifted the focus of this announcement to a debate about whether or not remote workers have the ability to be productive without someone watching over them.
If you feel the only way your staff are productive is when they have someone watching them and keeping them in line, then you will likely bear witness (or, more aptly, not bear witness) to those same employees becoming Mario Andretti when you have your back turned.
Well, it happened. I knew it was coming, but it happened sooner than I thought. My 2.5 year old mastered the question “Why?” (as well as “Why not?” for those times when the answer is something can’t be done—delightful). Here is just a snippet of the many conversations I’ve had with my son this week that all ended up the same way:
Me: Okay, it’s time to go home.
Me: Well, pre-school is done and it’s close to your nap, so we need to go home.
Me: If we don’t go home, then we won’t be near your bed and then you won’t have your nap and then you will miss your nap. We can’t miss your nap.
Toddler: Why not?
Me: Because then you’ll be too tired to play with me and daddy later today when daddy gets home. (but really thinking: because mommy needs that time in the afternoon to do work)
While I’m sure any parent can relate to these want-to-tear-your-hair-out conversations with their children around this time, I realized that something very important happens during these conversations that grants me the patience (okay, sometimes grants me the patience) to indulge him. He’s learning. He’s learning a great deal by asking his questions. This is his inquisitive little mind’s way of making sense of the world around him and starting to understand cause and effect.
Whereas, in the conversation example above, I intuitively knew that if we didn’t go home right away, he could miss his nap and I would likely have a grumpy toddler on my hands. He’s still learning that whole process. And, it’s likely, as he masters the process and starts seeing the link between cause and effect, those questions will subside. But, contrary to my knee-jerk reaction of “stop asking ‘Why?’!”, I actually hope it’s not likely, and I truly hope he continues to be just as inquisitive throughout his life.
Sadly, that’s not usually so. How many of us still approach situations with that curious wonder of a toddler? I’m willing to bet not many of us. For the most part, it makes sense. We’ve figured out the answers already. We face so many situations in a day that we have to learn to streamline as much as possible to make the most of our 24 hours each day. However, how often are we not asking ‘Why?’ because we’re worried it will make us look dumb or unknowledgeable? How often do we not ask ‘Why?’ because we assume we know the answer or should know the answer? How often do we not ask 'Why?' because we really don't want to know the answer?
More often than naught, it’s the latter sentiments that get us in trouble. Asking ‘Why?’ over and over again can actually be a very effective exercise in effective decision making as well as post-mortem root cause analyses. However, they’re truly only effective if we go back to our toddler years and ask the question with unabashed, innocent curiosity. No pretense. No agenda. No defensiveness. Otherwise, you’re likely to have answered the question even before asking it. And that answer will likely fit more into the category of “because I said so” than anything that actually challenges your belief system and, more importantly, more resonant of the real answer.