Asking six simple questions can yield powerful answers, as English writer Rudyard Kipling highlighted in a poem at the end of his children’s story The Elephant’s Child
I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine til five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small–
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends ‘em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes–
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!
The Elephant’s Child was published in 1902. More recently, author and creativity consultant Todd Henry has suggested a similar approach to clarifying a project’s objectives.
In his book The Accidental Creative
, Henry recommends first asking the “five W’s” (Why? Who? What? When? Where?) to form the project strategy, and then asking How? to figure out implementation.