The first three Renaissance questions, Why?, How? and What If? got us exploring, investigating, and imagining; wondering why things are the way they are, thinking about how they might be different, asking ourselves what might happen if put things together a bit differently from how they had been before.
The Action Question
The fourth question, Why Not? is the action question.
Often it is the hardest question to answer and the one, if unanswered, that leads to ideas that never get put into practice, or clever inventions that never get translated into practical products.
It’s the question I have wrestled with for most of my life. It’s the reason that as I write this post there are about 25 projects that remain in the idea stage, waiting for me to do something about them.
Which leads to the notion that there are two ways to ask the Why Not? question.
The Two Why Nots
The first way of asking, is the way that leads to action. You come up with a great idea, or at least one that you think is great, you muck about with it, asking the first three questions and finally say to yourself, “Why not?” “What could go wrong?” “Let’s give it a shot!”
And so, you dig in and start doing it. (In another post I’ll talk about how to keep doing it once you started, so the effort leads to some productive endpoint.)
Asked the first way, Why Not? is posed with the assumption that your idea is basically a good one and that any obstacles might stand in the way of putting your idea into action are ones that can be overcome.
The second way of asking the question asks us to be more thoughtful. If the idea you’ve come up with is substantial enough, or requires a lot of effort on the part of yourself or other people, it can be wise to ask Why Not? in a way that leads you to explore the problems you might face, and to plan for what to do about them.
Pretend for a minute that you enjoy making homemade artisan bread. Your friends think your bread is the best they’ve ever tasted. You’ve developed some very creative recipes, and you think it would be cool to open an Artisan Bakery. Why not?
The answer to the first why not is, “Let’s do it.” Why not? The bread is great, people like it, friends are encouraging you to open a bakery, it would be a blast to make a living doing something you love.
But the Why Not of wisdom, the second way of asking the question, leads you ask a few more questions, to anticipate the possible problems and recycle the first three Renaissance Questions before charging ahead.
The cost of a shop, understanding what licenses are required and figuring out how to get them, doing some honest planning and projecting to see if you can really make a living as an artisan baker, thinking long and hard about whether you want to work 14 hours a day making bread, are the possible Why Not? questions of the second kind.
I suspect nearly as many creative ideas have failed because the second type of Why Not? questions were not explored thoroughly enough, as have failed because the creator never got around to asking the first Why Not?.
Maybe a good summary is: The first Why Not? is more like, “Why not get off your ass and do something?”. The second Why Not? is “Are there compelling reasons why I should not do this, or at least do a lot more work before trying it?”
The first Why Not? spurs us to get going. The second tempers our craziness. Or at least we hope it does.
Some Balance, but not too much…
Obviously we need some balance here.
It’s very easy to plow through the first three questions and somehow never get far enough along in answering the fourth. Our ideas languish on the drawing board.
In the end, my advice to my millions of readers is that it’s more important to ask the Why Not? question in the first way, and to get off our ass and try the stuff we dream up.
Why Not? Indeed, “Why the hell not???”
If we overlooked some of the second round of Why Not? questions, at least we’ve given it a try and learned some new stuff.
And, if we screw it up and we don’t die too soon, we can always come back and give it another try.