Could a three letter word be the most powerful word in the English language? My view, it is the most powerful. As a simple question, why has the ability to be both simple and extremely complex at the same time. It is completely dependent on the person formulating the answer to “why”.
Let me give an example. The formula for energy E=MC2. If you were to ask me why this formula is true, I will answer that I was taught at school it was correct and shown sufficient proof that I still believe it to be an accurate representation. However, if Albert Einstein were still alive and you asked him the same question, can you imagine the answer! It would be a wonder! He identified the formula, therefore his answer for “why” would be full and rich and would no doubt be irrefutable. His domain of knowledge on that subject when compared to mine, would be exponentially greater.
In a business context, “why” is the most powerful question an analyst, manager or consultant can use in any situation. It makes the respondent look at the foundation of what we do. I recall many conversations a business context where the answer to “why” was “because we have always done it this way.”
So is why more powerful than “how, what and when”. How is able to be defined (usually) and can be definitive. We can usually identify the events, tasks, structures and other elements of the subject of the “how” question. “What” is very similar to “how”, where it too is usually definitive. “When” eminently definable. You either know or you don’t.
“Why” can be completely definable. But it also allows us to speculate, postulate and imagine! It encourages us to look beyond the “how, what and when” and see the ultimate possibilities. It allows us to understand and explore the possibilities. The “how, what and when” are ancillary to “why” and enhance the “why”. And on this basis, I argue that “why” is the most powerful word in the English language.