Don’t Ask the Wrong Question

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers.  The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”

– Peter Druker


In 2000, Robert Nardelli was hired to run Home Depot.  By 2006 he had nearly doubled sales, cut costs, improved process, increased efficiency and doubled profits.  In 2007, the board of directors released Nardelli.  Why?  He focused on the wrong question.  According to Ric Merrifield in his book Rethink, Nardelli fell into the trap of asking the “how” questions when he really needed to be addressing the “what”. 

While the “hows” will narrow your focus (and there is a time for narrowed focus), focusing on the “whats” will broaden your understanding of the organization and what makes it successful.  The “whats” ensure you are looking at the operation in its entirety and focusing efforts on the most desired outcomes.  Merrifield offers a 5-step approach for using the “whats” to improve performance:

  • Identify the “Whats” That Are Truly Valuable
  • Know What You are (and Aren’t) Good At
  • Make (and Break) Connections
  • Understand What Can (and Can’t) Be Predicted
  • Unravel (and Follow) the Rules

In 1999, Proctor & Gamble Company (P&G) focused on the “what” and decided to change their process for product innovation and began gathering ideas from outside inventors.  Within five years, P&G doubled their success rate of new product innovations sparking significant sales and earnings improvements.

You can find Ric’s book Rethink here or a summary of his book here. If you would like to improve your organization’s ability to ask the right questions, overcome obstacles and achieve goals we can help.  Just give us a call at 800-386-5611 or send us an email at






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