I went out for lunch yesterday. We’d spent most of the morning travelling around Joburg and I was hot, tired and pretty miserable. We needed something to eat, so we ducked into a small coffee shop to grab a sandwich. I had been there a few times, and always enjoyed the food. I felt like something with chicken and a little basil pesto. Shredded, with a little mayo and lettuce.. perhaps a smattering of feta cheese to give it a little salty spike. Yep, that would definitely hit the spot.

I can’t tell you the disappointment I felt upon seeing the shelves, which are usually packed with an array of delicious goods, verging on empty. Basically, all they had was a cold ham and cheese filled croissant. We didn’t have time to try another deli, so I grabbed the croissant and a fruit juice, paid for the items and sat to down to eat.
Once again, I was disappointed. You see, I hate the smell of bread. More specifically, the sour smell bread or dough gets from sitting in plastic bag for a couple of hours. This croissant had clearly been here for days.

“This sandwich is crap,” I told my mate, also chewing vigorously. He nodded.

He continued eating. I continued to not enjoy the sandwich. The cheese was also starting to taste sour. It was that cheap mozzarella you find at a grocery store, often used on homemade pizza. I also couldn’t really taste any of the ham – in fact I wasn’t even sure there was any.

Suddenly, I took bite that tasted great. It was a bit of a shock as I struggled to identify why.. was there perhaps a sauce I had missed? Maybe they didn’t spread it out enough and it all lumped in one area? No that wasn’t it.  It was something far simpler. It was actually just seasoning.. basic salt and pepper. I took another bite. It was actually starting to taste really good. The ground black pepper beautifully complimented the ham. The sour cheese was properly balanced by the salt. I wondered if it was sea salt? Was it freshly crushed or did it come from a shaker? I wasn’t sure.

My friend cut me off mid-rant and laughed, saying, “Sometimes the sandwich is just crap, and that’s all you need to say about it. “Why” doesn’t matter. You do that a lot, you over analyse things.”

He was absolutely right and it worried me for the rest of the day. It was just a damn sandwich – did it really matter why it was crap? It was just a crap sandwich, that’s it. Why did I need to understand why? Why am I writing about trying to understand why I need to know why a sandwich was crap. It’s ridiculous.

Or is it?

We don’t do this enough. Instead, we accept what we know and learn because we are told it is so. Why not ask yourself why – not to be pedantic or to waste time, but because we learn best when we ask why. Our parents were brought up to accept what they were taught, that things happen the way they do for a reason. They lived in a different world, yet somehow we’ve adopted this same mindset.

From a business perspective, this can also be applied to the relationships between customers and suppliers. Between employers and employees and between management and staff. When we ask why, we either better understand the process or we find that the processes no longer apply. It’s starting to happen a lot, we’re finding the cracks and starting to exploit then. This is starting to become so common in our world that we’ve even given it a name. Disruption. And it all starts with Why.

Every market, every business and every company is open to disruption when you start asking why. Just look around you and start getting in the habit of questioning the status quo. Question the process. Question the methodology. Understand where it comes from and why it was put in place, by whom and most importantly when. We are creatures of habit and so often you’ll find that these habits no longer make sense, yet we still continue to perpetuate them. That’s where the cracks form and where the opportunity lies.

Exploit it.