Flying home from a recent trip to Boston, I found myself seated next to a father and son also headed back home. It was a late flight and 24F was pretty young—I’d guess 4, maybe 5 years old, brown floppy hair and big eyes.

You can imagine my initial trepidation that he might have difficulty peacefully enjoying the flight. This wouldn’t necessarily be an easy trip for such a little guy. Remembering that the flight should be only 45-minutes – despite my previous New York-Boston flight having taken a total of eight hours – I took a deep breath, confident that I’d be in a cab and home soon enough. (Lightning doesn’t hit in the same place twice, right?)

It was, in fact, a short 45-minute flight. As the captain informed the cabin that we were making our final descent, however, the flight got more interesting. Mr. 24F turned to his dad and began earnestly and thoughtfully to ask his father…“why.”

Why did we have to fly over the buildings? Why did the lights go on on the runway? Why did we have to stay in our seats? Why was the pilot the boss?

Smiling to myself, I couldn’t help but laugh and think…our interest in the answer to the question “why” begins at a very young age and stays with us. To be fair, it’s arguably the most interesting question that can be asked, or contemplated.

24F wasn’t asking a bunch of “how” or “what” questions while we taxied to the jet bridge; those could come later, after he determined if they were worth it. He instead began with “why” – a simple piece of advice most companies could benefit from when engaging with any one of their stakeholders.

For 24F – much like any employee, consumer or investor – an honest answer to the “why” question earned the right, and trust, for his dad to be asked and tackle his “how” follow-up questions. In this way, “why” acted as a gateway, or permission, to continue the engagement. Depending on how the “why” question is answered, people like 24F decide if they want to know anything else about the topic in play.

In the business context, “why” helps both internally and externally. Across the board, the answer to this question with regard to a business, product, strategy, and/or service decision can:
·    Inspire new ideas or motivate,
·    Create understanding, and/or
·    Earn or hold attention/interest

If “why” can be so powerful, why do companies seem to neglect its importance so often, as demonstrated by their insufficient context sharing? They seem too focused on conveying, sometimes even praising, the “what” and the “how.” But, consumers and employees alike often can easily discover and understand this answer, at least to a certain degree, on their own, just like 24F understood that we needed to stay in our seats. What was more interesting to him was learning “why” we had to—for what purpose, to what benefit.

And, herein illuminates the unmistakable power of “why” — the real insight 24F gave me. The power of “why” has everything to do with its unique ability to compel behaviors.

For businesses, this might mean influencing consumer purchasing decisions or employees’ adoption of a new approach to doing business. For consumers, it can mean solidifying brand loyalty and inspiring word-of-mouth endorsement. For the little guy in 24F, it meant keeping him safe in his seat with his seatbelt fastened until the plane came to a complete stop.

What does the answer to “why” mean for you?