When in doubt, ask “So what?”

This post tells about how a simple question “So what?” can remove a lot of confusion from our lives, making the way forward clearer in many situations.


This post tells about how a simple question “So what?” can remove a lot of confusion from our lives, making the way forward clearer in many situations.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned in business school was to ask “So what?” We were taught that this phrase helps to get to the bottom of the matter, and it does! The first way we learned to use it was in strategic proposals to upper management, when you need to suggest an action plan for a company backed by meaningful argumentation.

Using this technique, you can evolve from simply stating the obvious in your writing, for example “The company needs more traction in the market”, which doesn’t bring value to the reader of your report, to suggesting a viable plan, for example “As the company doesn’t have enough traction at the moment, it’s worth increasing the advertising spend to reach more new leads and implement a loyalty program to strengthen the connection between the brand and its current customers.” All thanks to holding yourself back from the temptation of writing the first thing that comes to mind after initial analysis (the easy route) and asking “So what?” instead. You will have to dig a bit deeper to answer, but the end result is more insightful.

Not only did I like this neat way of making myself think harder, thus pushing myself further, but I have also found several practical uses for this great phrase in real life.

When you are stuck in a past problem

If you can’t seem to get over something, you are letting it affect your present. “So what?” can help you snap yourself out of it and take away power from the problem – the power it holds over you.

Say, you keep thinking how your ex cheated on you, and it gives you a hard time trusting the new people you meet. Next time you think about the betrayal, ask yourself: “So what?” They cheated on you, and it certainly hurt. This doesn’t make you any less lovable now for a future partner to come. It really doesn’t have to mean as much as your mind was making out of it – after all, it’s already over and done with.

When you are trying to solve a current problem

“So what?” can help you figure out a current issue, too. If there is a problem bothering you right now, for instance “I don’t feel fulfilled in my current position at work,” but you are not challenging yourself with extra questions that make you think, you may end up not doing anything about it but complaining to your friends. So far, that approach hasn’t solved anything!

Try asking “So what?” instead. In your answer, there may be viable solutions, like “So, I should probably look for a new place or ask for a more challenging role within a company to take on new responsibilities.”

When you need to consider alternatives

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly had times when I’ve tried to achieve too much all at once. Say, you want to learn a new language and get back in shape. If you go after both at the same time, it will take you at least twice as long to achieve each goal (at best – actually, more, because you may get tired and start underperforming quickly). So, how do you choose? Just ask “So what?”

“I’m learning Mandarin!” “So what?” “So that I might go to China someday, as I’ve always wanted!” “So what?” “Knowing the language will help me fit in better and find a job easier, if I want to.”

“I’m working out 5 times a week!” “So what?” “So, I already feel a lot healthier and more attractive to people.” “So what?” “It may help me be more confident when meeting potential partners.”

You get the idea. It can go on and on, but in the end this is a very effective method to find out why you chose these specific activities. In this (completely hypothetical) example, it’s not at all about achieving linguistic excellence or improving physical shape. It’s actually about getting a chance to move or travel to a land with a different culture or meeting a new partner. Now that you know your own inner motivations for daily activities better, which will you prioritise? The choice becomes a lot clearer that way, I think.

I hope this little trick helps you in some way, like it has helped me – I’ve certainly used it for all three purposes above, to achieve an enjoyable result and to better make sense of my own life. If you’ve used it too, or you have a current situation that asking “So what?” can help you with, definitely share your experience in the comments – it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

Enjoy your journey! 

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