Whiteboard Wisdom: WAYTTAWT

One Question Could Change Everything

Sometimes seeing something happen in one context, can really make something clear in another. Let me explain.

I was on StackOverflow.com a while back. Just doing some programming research. Totally NOT just copying code for whatever I was working on. Anyway, I came across a thread where a new user had posted a plea for help and listed out all the things they had done for something they were working on.

And the community was great. Within a couple hours 10 or 11 people had responded with various ways to fix his code. Not all of them agreed, of course. So there was the natural developer-posturing. But overall it was nice.

No one could actually seem to fix his problem though.

But it was nice.

Then, one bold member, who had not responded earlier, posted the simplest and best response yet:

“What are you trying to accomplish with this?”


How dare he? This is a community without judgement. We don’t ask questions like that. It’s really personal and maybe the-

Then the original poster answered with one sentence on his goal.

And it changed everything.

Pretty much everyone who had taken time to try to fix his code realized he was better off scraping all their suggestions and going a different direction. And that is what the feedback then became. Members shared links to other posts that would help and explained what to do.

And I realized something. This sort of thing happens with creative agencies all the time. A client comes to their agency with something they want to do or make. And usually it is accompanied by a sketch or PowerPoint slide or handwritten notes from an internal meeting. And the agency, in every desire to help, just jumps in and start offering ‘tweaks’ or iterating suggestions.

When really, they should take a deep breath, pause, and ask the client:

“What are you trying to accomplish with this?”

Very often, answering that will just mean nods and a “Yeah, you’re on the right path.” But what about those times that it changes everything? Isn’t it worth it to minimize any wasted effort and maximize returns?

I suppose what I hope the takeaway from this would be: Don’t feel offended if someone asks you what your end goal for something is before they start trying to help you refine your efforts. It’s not a challenge. It just makes sense.

Now, I’m pretty much done and this blog is way, way shorter than most of my others. This is because before I started, I took a step back and asked myself the question:

“What are you trying to accomplish with this?”

And the answer was: “Write a post people will actually read all the way to the end.”