Many years ago, The Table's founder and lead writer Rob met Michael Wolff, who founded Wolff Olins with the late Wally Olins. Michael told Rob never to ask how someone is, but instead ask why they exist. Since that encounter, Rob's been asking why a lot....
Outside the window of this plane, the mountains are reaching up to the gods. Their spires are sharp, their span is as wide as I can see. And the tops of their peaks are speckled in late-winter snow. They are tusks bursting from the earth, silhouetted by the bright blue sky. These mountains are Switzerland's share of the Alps, and I'm flying over them into Geneva.
Once I get to Geneva, I'll be meeting up with Hugh. Hugh is a strategist and the man behind Strategy by Design. We're going to run a storytelling workshop together.
The workshop is a reconnaissance mission. A 'deep dive' into our client's brands, if you will. A chance to listen and learn from the product experts, whose insight and knowledge is invaluable. These people are crucial to us.
It's these people's lives spent nurturing their brands that will help us to fully understand our challenge. We'll then be able to help our client tell a powerful, gripping, emotive brand story at an offsite in May. We've made the decision to ask the teams attending: why? why? why?
Brand presentations are notoriously dull; they're usually slide after slide of functional updates. If we don't ask why these people do what they do, why their brands exist, why we should care, we'll end up presenting a list of findings and actions in a PowerPoint deck come May. And for this client, that isn't good enough. He wants more.
He needs to bring on board his whole company at their annual offsite, to inspire them to think of their products as brands. He needs to wow them, move them, rouse and cajole them. He wants to entertain people around him and show them how exciting the future of these brands can be.
Because our client wants to change hearts as well as minds. Because by changing hearts, we change attitudes. And by changing attitudes, we change cultures. And by changing cultures, we encourage a new way of thinking - one that can bring big opportunities.
We start asking why as troublesome toddlers. At this age, curiosity flourishes before it later becomes one of our most intriguing traits. Focusing on why and not just what opens us up to new possibilities and can lead us into illuminating and transformative places.
Remember that next time someone tells you a story. Ask them a few whys. See what they say...