Expert or amateur?

Five ‘whys’ to tell the difference

“Experts diagnose. Amateurs give advice.” So says Chris Do, founder of the Futur. And he’s right, you know. This little difference in perspective is what separates the wheat from the chaff. An amateur is quick to allow the self-diagnosed client to proceed to tell them what’s wrong and offer advice to scratch that itch. An expert wouldn’t think to offer a solution without fully understanding the problem first, and the only way we can get to the real heart of the matter is through curiosity and application of expertise. What type of relationship do you want to have with your client?

Chris Do. Photo by: Ruggiero Scardigno for DDD-Milan

In the famous Blair Enns tome, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, he illustrates this concept through the experience of a medical professional. “Doctors face self-diagnosed patients (or clients) as much as we do, but we are far more likely to proceed with such a flawed approach than any medical practitioner.” He goes on to say, “…Such a sequence would render the professional liable for malpractice.”

The point I’m trying to make is that we cannot offer solutions to problems creative or otherwise without getting to the root of the problem.

There are a hundred ways to skin this cat (sorry PETA) in terms of methodology. Still, at the core, most concepts revolve around taking a genuine interest in what your client is saying and asking the right questions to drill down to a level of deep understanding. In business relationships — well, in any relationship actually — we should employ real empathy for our clients. Only then can we achieve deep understanding. After all, the last thing we would want is for someone to pay us to fix something if we can’t help them, right?

I recently came across one way of doing this that I applaud for its simplicity. While I consider this an entry-level approach, if you can get in the habit of doing just this simple thing, you’ll be well on your way.

The Five Why’s

The Five Why’s is a simple technique you can employ today to extract information from your clients and prospects and get to the bottom of their dilemmas. Simply put, you just ask “why” five times. Here’s an example pulled from Wikipedia to save me typing it:

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

In this example, you could probably keep drilling if you want to, but you can see that by simply asking “why” over-and-over-again, the person being questioned is forced to think deeper and deeper. Hopefully, they will also become more and more clear until they eventually reveal the real problem.

It’s that easy. Lots of folks have longer-form and more comprehensive versions of this technique. Just google “The Why Conversation,” and you’ll find something. I like Blair Enns, Chris Do, and Jonathan Stark’s takes on the subject.

Do you diagnose? Or are you just scratching self-diagnosed itches? What do you do with your clients to drill down and discover what is actually going on versus what they think is their problem? Let's talk about it! Share them here in the comments below or find me on the socials. Let's continue this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar on Medium, Twitter and Instagram.