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.
1865 – 1936
Milton was born in Pennsylvania in 1857. Because his family was frequently on the move, he only had a fourth grade education.
He did an apprenticeship with a candy company in Lancaster. After four years, he struck out on his own, establishing a candy company in Philadelphia. It didn’t last long. He made two other attempts, one in Chicago and one in New York. Like the first attempt, these also resulted in failure.
He is said to have asked himself the question, “Why is it that other men succeed and I fail?” He kept asking himself that question until he had a satisfactory response. He realized he’d been moving ahead without all the answers: he was not asking “why” enough.
From that day until his death at the age of eighty-eight, his whole life was dedicated to the philosophy of asking “Why?” If someone said to him: “It can’t be done”, he’d ask, “Why? Why not?”
Milton said that in his first three attempts in business, he took too many things for granted; he made too many assumptions. On his fourth attempt, he learned to ask why. That one simple change in the way he did business resulted in his founding a very successful candy company. He established the Lancaster Caramel Company and seven years later, he sold it for one million dollars.
At times, we can see how something might work for others, but we have trouble applying the concept to our own situation. But I suggest you learn to use the word “why,” even if you’re skeptical about its value in your life. You can certainly use it the same way Milton did, to gain information you need. And there are many other applications as well.
If you have employees and observe them doing something different, learn to ask them “why” in a curious manner rather than just giving orders. You’ll get more information and make the employee feel more respected.
Instead of scolding your children when they do something you don’t approve of or understand, learn to ask why. Before you jump to conclusions and engage in a dispute with your spouse or a relative, ask why. Asking why allows the other person to share their views with you.
Rather than argue with someone, ask why they believe their position is correct. You’ll often gain a different perspective through asking why. And if you ask enough, you’ll gain all the information available, allowing you to make better decisions.
But you must be careful to ask in a way that disarms a person rather than causes them to be defensive. There are two ways to ask why. One is in an aggressive, demanding or negative manner, such as, “Why on earth did you do that?” The other way is in a curious manner. Asking in a demanding tone tends to make the recipient very defensive; they become reluctant to share information. On the other hand, when you ask in a curious manner, they open up and share information freely.
And just like there are two ways to ask, there are, broadly speaking, two possible targets for this question: you can ask others, and you can (and should) ask yourself. Actually, you’ll gain much more by directing the question to yourself. Ask why you take certain actions. Ask why you’re angry. Ask if there’s a better way for you to respond to adverse situations. The more you ask yourself why, the easier life will be for you.
Selling the Lancaster Carmel Company for $1 million was quite a story. But it didn’t end there; Milton used the million dollars from the sale of Lancaster Carmel, along with the word “why”, and built the largest candy company in America; Milton was Milton S. Hershey.
What difference could you make in your life if you asked why more often?
You see things; and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”
George Bernard Shaw
1856 – 1950