In Order To

Yesterday, I wrote a long article. This one will be short.

I mentioned in that article that, while conceptually The 5 Whys is a great idea, asking people literally “Why?” 5 times is a terrible idea. I wanted to highlight a way of interviewing people that gets you to the same place (root cause/purpose) without sounding like a judgmental jerk.

People, especially those new to a good idea, tend to take the new idea forward literally. I watched a relatively newly-minted UXer once make small ticks on his notepad for each Why asked so that he could make sure he asked all five.1 While reacting literally to things is great for comedy, it's less great for research.

Asking someone “Why?” while they're telling you how they wish they could accomplish their dream is a jerk-move.

The “In Order To” Game.2

The rules of this game are simple:

  • Pay attention to what the person is saying to you.
  • When they say something you don't understand or you feel needs more delving, say, “You want to do that in order to ...?” and trail off, letting them take back the conversation.
  • Keep asking the question, in a non-robotic way, until they run out of things to say. You've likely found the root cause/purpose. And certainly you've uncovered how they think through/about the issue at hand.
  • Pay attention to what the person is saying to you. Oh, did I say that twice? Must be important.
  • Let the tone of your voice be curious.

What's great about it, you ask?

  • Less judge-y.
  • Good for finding out the cause of problems.
  • Good for eliciting the true purpose/motivation of a person's desire!
  • Works great on CEOs and other roles who typically block you from getting the right work done well.
  • More conversational; the flow tends to be disrupted when you ask one-word questions.
  • Less judge-y. Oh, did I say that twice? Must be important.
  • Gets the interviewee to better understand their own motivations for what they are saying which will either get them to back away from the idea or underscore just how important it is.

This is a good technique that's reasonably simple and won't make the person you're talking with feel at all defensive. It's also something that doesn't need a fancy new name like Lean or Atomic.

Works on Zombie’s, too

The picture above is me interviewing a Zombie about his job. The job of being a Zombie.

It was 2004 and on Navy Pier in Chicago. It was also, totally coincidentally, Halloween. This guy stayed in character for every question until the very end when I asked a couple “In Order To” questions. The final one must have really got him thinking because he broke character and answered my question in a really insightful way such that it was obvious the realization was surprising even to himself.

I wish I could recall the conversation details. It was part of a workshop exercise for a conference I was at. We had to interview several people about their jobs but we only had 20 minutes to talk to 5 strangers wandering around Navy Pier.

Luckily, I got video of my other favorite interview that day:

Shot on a ... non-smartphone. 2004, people!


1 "The pain only my enemies should know."
2 I know I wrote about this before, but cannot find it. But good ideas are worth repeating.