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The One-Word Question That Never Goes Out of Style

The One-Word Question That Never Goes Out of Style
Published April 22, 2019 by The 99U Team

When we set the theme for our 2019 conference — The Creative Future — we imagined a future where creative skills are more pervasive and prized, and how that might reshape the world around us. As we prepare for the event in May, we’re asking our speakers to share a skill they think is important for all creatives to navigate what’s to come.


For Thaniya Keereepart, head of product experience at membership platform Patreon, asking "why?" is a timeless skill with huge payoff. Thaniya will be at the 11th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 8-10 in New York City.

Q. What’s a skill or characteristic you’ve cultivated in your career that you find to be futureproof?

A. Curiosity. I ask a lot of "why" questions. I love to get to the bottom of thingsto understand what motivates us. Why we come to believe something. Why we choose what we choose. Why some people see the world differently. A big part of what I do is read people's reaction to these "why" questions. Not just what they say, what they click on, or what they look at, but why. Through listening and observing their articulation, I am able to understand intention more deeply. It makes me feel more connected and more empathic, personally and professionally.

Q. Why will it be so important in the future?

A. We are consumers of information. Algorithms spoon-feed us with the next thing we should read, watch, or listen, where we should spend our time. Someone (a curator, taxonomist, etc.) or something (a machine learning algorithm) is deciding all of this for us. Our worldview gets shaped by what we’re exposed to. If we don’t take a moment to ask ourselves why our attention is spent on something, we stop challenging our own cognition. When we stop challenging our cognition, we starve ourselves of perspective, imagination, and ultimately, empathy.

Q. What’s a time in your career that you’ve seen that skill or characteristic at play in a way that made you realize its power?

A. Last year we received a request from one of our creators to fix our group messaging bug. It was more or less a typical request coming in through our logging channels. When you spend enough years working on consumer-facing products, you have to learn what’s critical vs what’s "nice to have" and prioritize the team’s focus accordingly.

I took time to get on a call with this creator to talk through why this bug was important to her. She shared with me that the bug caused her to miss a few deliveries to her customers, but our system didn’t warn her and so she didn’t know. As a result she began receiving hate messages from her customers which escalated quickly into death threats. She creates art for the 18+ space. In this space, online bullying can get very scary very quickly. She had lost a few customers along the way, which affected her ability to make enough money to pay her rent on time. But more than that, she got scared.

A to-do ticket is a ticket. We can quite quickly forget the livelihood of folks using our products sometimes when don’t spend time asking why.

Q. What advice would you give to anyone looking to cultivate that skill or characteristic?

A. I’d start with something more casual and fun. When you come across a conversation that sparks your curiosity with friends, try asking why five times. See where your conversation leads. See if you can get to their intention. At work, when you come across differences in opinion and you’re needing to justify your decision, try writing down why you decided on whatever. Trace it back five times. You’ll learn so much about yourself and you’ll be more prepared for the future.

Hear from Thaniya and other creatives shaping the future at the 11th Annual 99U Conference, May 8-10, 2019 in New York City.

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