The power of curiosity…

Probably the best (and real pithy) summation for the power of curiosity are the 6 faithful serving men that Rudyard Kipling alluded to:
“I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

In the 90’s I had the opportunity to visit the Fuji Xerox manufacturing facility in Japan. Later in life, I had the good fortune to attend a Kaizen workshop run by the father of the movement himself…Masaaki Imai. I recall to this day the simple anecdote he used to describe the benefits of being curious at all times…especially when one is seeking  to uncover the Root cause of the problem…and not just the symptom of the problem. Here is his anecdote on the benefit of asking “why?” at least five times:

At an Auto Repair Shop, a worker is seemingly throwing sand on the shop floor.
The supervisor asks: “What are you doing?”
Worker: “Throwing sand on the floor”
Supervisor: “Why?”
Worker: “Because the floor is slippery”
Supervisor: “Why is the floor slippery?”
Worker: “Because there is oil on the floor”
Supervisor: “Why is there oil on the floor?”
Worker: “Because oil is  leaking from the engine of this car we are servicing”
Supervisor: Why is the oil leaking from the car?”
Worker: “I don’t know”
Supervisor: “Let’s investigate shall we?”
The resultant investigation identified worn out gaskets to be the cause for Oil leaking onto the shop floor.

I still apply this analogy to this day when trying to teach basic Problem solving and Root Cause Analysis skills…the best example of putting curiosity to good and practical use.

When does it make sense to include Intuition in your Decision Making Process…

Let me reach out to the other side…where perhaps Intuition may be considered a fundamental prerequisite for survival in this new age of Social, Cloud and Big Data.
Our Information systems of yore were all designed to deal with structured data or information, where the data for throughput was nicely categorized, with neatly aligned definitions and descriptions, with ‘go / no-go’ gates to drive mathematical processing, algorithms and decision trees.
When you think about it, we come from a generation that had to study and learn how to go about using a computer. Some of us had to study computer languages just to execute our daily roles in the I/T business.
Fortunately the Software and applications that spun off matured to the degree that one could simply sit before a console and ‘INTUITEVLY’ operate the system to produce spreadsheets, word documents, presentation graphics and such like.
Contrast that scenario with today’s explosion in Social , Cloud and Big Data and Analytics.
Our pre-teen kids log on and off using their computers, tablets or Smart phones with an alacrity that leaves us dumbfound.
The workforce (both blue and white collar)are expected to be proficient with basic computing skills, regardless of their roles – and they do for the most part.
Technology has kept abreast of the changing needs and wants of the populace in a seamless manner such that we did not see/notice any perceptible shift in the way we migrated from the need to understand basic computer language before we could use a system, to where we have arrived today.

The underlining thread that runs through the entire commentary above is that the way programmers and S/W developers ran with the technology shift, was to inject a sense of ‘Intuitiveness’ into the programs and codes they developed. What I mean is that the basic functionality of the computers when hooked up in conjunction with the Program and S/W, allowed the user to INTUITIVELY know how to manipulate say…a mouse, or through use of simple icons, know where to send something to trash, or save something, or print something.
Today’s computer users are mostly self-taught (it takes literally minutes for one to get up and running with a basic computer these days).
Social media means that the information that people process and transmit with each other has grown exponentially. Machine to machine interactions are also growing exponentially…all of which means we have reached that crossroads in our I/T evolution where whatever it was that got us here…is not good enough to keep us here…leave alone facilitate our onward/upward progress?
Big Data and Analytics has arrived to stay…and because of Social, Machine to Machine and Cloud based growth, computing can no longer be an ‘mathematical’ processing of 0’s and 1’s, but instead needs to evolve into something that is ‘Cognitive’ much like IBM’s ‘Watson.’
Cognitive computing (like IBM’s Watson) is the next level of big data processing, using code that is truly Cognitive and can “Observe, Interpret, Evaluate and Decide” when assigned ‘Unstructured’ Data for processing.

In the final analysis I am sure we will see H/W Engineering, Programming and S/W Code to seamlessly fuse Intuitive and data driven language that is able to breakdown the vast, unstructured data we are forced to deal with in today’s ‘Big Data’ environment.
We can no longer rule out completely, the benefits and criticality of utilizing ‘INTUITION’ in our Decision Making processes!

Does Intuition have a place in our Decision Making Process?

Intuition is what drives our decision making process in the absence of logic, reason and fact.
To suggest that there may be a safe zone where Intuitive decisions may be taken (unless the decisions are of little to no impact to all concerned) is almost like saying there is a time when we can base our decisions on ‘guesswork.’
I get that sometimes we do indeed take actions based on intuition alone however these are almost reflex actions that happen with little or no premeditation on our part.

a. You drive up to an intersection where you have right of way but something tells you to stop before crossing the intersection – you do, and you are glad you did, because a speeding car races across your path. You just know it would have hit you if you did not stop when you did.

b. You are interviewing candidates for an opening in your Organization and have shortlisted two candidates from the five you have interviewed as meeting/exceeding all your hiring requirements.
The 6th candidate walks in and introduces himself to you. You shake hands and barely ask a few questions when you are filled with a ‘feeling’ that this is the person you need to hire. You cannot explain this ‘feeling’ but it is strong enough for you to lean more favourably towards him, even though you have not quite tested him for compliance with your hiring specifications?
Both examples a. and b. above are what I would call true experiences of ‘Intuition.’

In example a. above you allowed your intuition to dictate/direct your decision (to stop).

In example b, I have left the outcome open as I believe we have all experienced something similar to what I have described, however I also believe that we would all react in different ways. Some of us may bite the bullet and hire the candidate based on our ‘hunch.’
Others may reflect over all the requirements, and intuition notwithstanding, hire one of the 2 short listed candidates who exceeded our requirements.

In example a. above there is no question that it is safe (even appropriate) to allow intuition to influence our decision to stop. It is utterly without any cost to self and in fact at worst case, would extend our journey by a few minutes.

This would be a ‘safe’ zone to practice intuition based decision making.

In example b. above, we would be remiss if we chose to make the hiring decision based on intuition alone. All things being equal, it would make sense to hire the candidate who made us ‘feel good’ for whatever mysterious, inexplicable reason, since we have also applied diligence in verifying that he too meets/exceeds all our interview requirements.

In my opinion, we can talk great lengths about the Brain Sciences, Biological breakthroughs, Right Brain/Left Brain thinking, Medicine and Philosophy…and after all the dust has settled…find ourselves just as clueless as we were when this thread first kicked off.

T.S. Eliot said it best:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the

Do you have any special ‘Leadership’ questions?

My Leadership Questions are Rudyard Kipling’s 6 Honest Serving Men

“I keep six honest serving-men
they taught me all I know
their names are What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who:

So how do I use these questions – let’s imagine we are seeing a dramatic drop in sales in a specific specific Quarter.

Question 1.
My first question is usually ‘What’ is the problem – this gives me an idea as what the problem is that is causing the drop in Sales at XYZ location. Remember the expression : a problem well defined is a problem half-solved!
In this stage I am working the problems that keep getting described until I am confident that I I have a fair idea about what the true problem is, and am able to define it in a few words such that anyone can understand it.
I typically introduce the concept of ‘SMART’ for defining the problem statement that I derive from the ‘What’ question (SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)

Question 2.
The next question I would ask would be ‘Where’ is the problem.
If I know which part of the country has the problem I am again eliminating other areas that are not contributors to the problem.
The Where question pinpoints specific regions, branches that are contributing the Sales problem. (Another approach is to ask where do we not have this problem?)

Question 3.
I usually Ask ‘Who’ has the problem as the third question – this helps in zeroing down to the Location head, Branch manager, or Sales Director at the specific location(s) where the problem exists. Again we are in the process of eliminating the teams that are not a part of the problem

Question 4.
My fourth question is typically the ‘When’ question – I like to ask since when have we had the problem – in other words, if sales are dropping since when did we first notice the trend? This is critical to any analysis or problem solving because we can also determine what significant changes did we have in the environment  that could have triggered the problem?
I also like to ask ‘When’ did we not have this problem – again it allows me to map out what was different when we did not have the problem?

Question 5.
My fifth question is usually around the ‘How’ – as in ‘How’ much of the drop in sales is really the problem. What I mean by this is if we typical operate within defined upper and lower control limit when it comes to sales revenues, and if our standard is that < 5% volume or revenue drop is an acceptable loss in any given Qtr, we can determine by how much we are off target. So if sales are down by 8.5%, we have a 3.5% problem in our hands.

Question 6.
My sixth and last question is typically the ‘Why’ question – and probably where I spend most of my time. I ask Why  over and over until I am satisfied that I have the root cause – here is something I heard the great Masaaki Imai (Kaizen author) articulate in a seminar I once attended:
Supervisor observes man throwing sand on shop floor and asks:
Supervisor: Why are you throwing sand on the shop floor
Operator: Because it is slippery
Supervisor: Why is it slippery?
Operator: Because there is oil on the floor
Supervisor why is there oil on the floor?
Operator: Because it keeps dripping from the Engine head
Supervisor: Why is it dripping from the Engine Head?
Operator: because the Gasket is worn out
Supervisor: Then change the Gasket!
(Root cause was the gasket being worn)

The Why questions help me determine the true cause for the problem. Once the root cause is determined the effort required to address it and get back on track is so much easier to accomplish than if you simply keep throwing sand on the shop floor!


Ineffectiveness occurs in a specific sort of environment. When the organization is too busy measuring activities (eg number of cold calls made, number of rings before the phone is picked up, etc) versus measuring and monitoring efficacy or efficiency gains (eg how many cold calls does it take to convert 1 single, qualified lead, or how many customers who were responded to within the required number of rings, will testify that they were satisfied overall with the way their call was handled.
Therefore, simply asking ‘tough questions’ or having a devil’s advocate to challenge the Status Quo may not always produce the desired result. We need to ask the tough questions about the ‘right’ things. Are we measuring efficiency gains or just counting activities (ticking boxes). The Japanese TQC Management Gurus had a simple system in the early 80’s – to measure a competitors process efficiency they would look at 3 factors QCD or Quality, Cost and Delivery where Quality= the error rate, Cost is the cost of rework and delivery is percent of delivery on time and in full. Think of asking the tough questions in a similar vein (yes these 3 factors will fit almost all business models). That will truly get your organization’s attention!


Rudyard Kipling wrote a short poem that proposes a powerful set of questions:

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

While at Tokyo, several years ago, I was fortunate to visit several plants and manufacturing facilities, as well as gather, first hand, the Japanese self directed work groups and their supervisors/managers, as they performed extraordinary problem solving and quality improvement projects…not through asking ‘tough questions’ but more by following the basic framework laid out by Mr. Rudyard Kipling so many years ago.

Here is an example of how these ‘6 faithful serving men’ may be put to good use:
Problem – Sales are slipping in your Toronto location.

Ask: What do we know about the market? What could be causing us to lose sales? What are the competitors doing differently? and on and on…

Why: Why are we losing sales? Why are other branch offices not losing sales (London, Kitchener, Ajax, etc), Why did we lose that last deal? Why did our competitor win that last bid? and on and on…

When: When did we start losing business in Toronto? When did we lose our first big deal? When did our competitors start catching up on us? When were we not losing business in Toronto (these questions automatically trigger additional probing of ‘What’ were we doing differently when we were not losing business or when we were winning business? and on and on…

How: How can we stop the losses? How can we get back to a winning position in Toronto? How can we learn from our Competitors? How can we benchmark with other similar industries in our market that are doing better than us? and on and on…

Why: Why are our competitors doing better than us? Why did we lose that last bid/deal? Why are our competitors winning? Why do our customers seem to want to leave us now? Why did our customers not want to leave us in the past, why did we win that last big deal? (ask why 5 times at least for critical issues to get to the root cause) and on and on…

Who: Who are the members on our sale team who have still been winning business? Who are the members on our teams who have consistently been losing sales? Who were on the team that lost the last big deal? Who were on the team that won the last few big deals? Who are our top 3 competitors? Who are the clients who have stayed with us (re-use the Why question here – why did they stay?), and on and on…

So you can see that it is really not about tough questions but more a framework if questioning that will get you from point a to point b in better understanding almost any potential business or organizational roadblock you are trying to navigate through.