Professor William Cleaver Wilkinson, a 19th century academic, popularised the famous five Ws (who?, what?, when?, why? and where?), a way of organising information gathering that is widely used in business.

What is less well known is that Wilkinson started with a better three Ws, namely ‘what?’, ‘why?’ and ‘what of it?’.

I prefer the directness of the original three – and especially the last one. ‘What of it?’ was the slightly politer ‘so what?’ of its day.

We’re accustomed in business life to ‘what?’ and ‘why?.  They shape our decisions about whether to transact.  They are also pretty useful in situations when we need to make a fast decision.

But think for a moment about ‘what of it?’  Sometimes the answer to ‘why?’ from consultants can seem a bit easy, a bit formulaic.

I might say to you, for example, that ‘we’re going to implement a PR and brand communications programme for you’ – the WHAT part.

You might then say WHY?

I might then say ‘we’re doing it to raise your profile with your key target audiences, to acquire new customers; to position you as the leading brand in your market; to generate vertical sector, national and international media coverage; to grow your social media followers and increase engagement’.

At this point your eyes might have glazed over and you might have deployed the sixth and most costly W – the WHATEVER.

But what if, instead, you sat up in your chair and said WHAT OF IT?

At that point the conversation starts to get down to some very specific things, like money through the tills, positive impact on bottom line, measurable impact on the way that your customers feel about you, an approach from a potential acquirer  – or something else.

It’s a really good thing to do.  Sometimes in our haste we can make decisions on the basis of wallpaper language that really doesn’t advance the cause.

Next time you have have a conversation with an advisor, have a shot at using the ‘what of it?’ manoeuvre. The results might be more profitable than you imagine.


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