There comes a time in some people's lives when they have to answer a very important question -- a question that could be life-changing for a select few, and that they have to  answer over and over and over.

That question is: "Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A franchise restaurant?"

Some readers probably see that question and think, "Well, why wouldn't you want to own a Chick-fil-A?"

  • It's super-selective. The 1 percent acceptance rate at Chick-fil-A is lower than Harvard University or the U.S. Navy SEALs.
  • Chick-fil-A franchises make lots of money: reportedly almost $5 million a year. The owner-operator can take home $200,000 or more.
  • And, the franchise fee is very low. Want to buy a McDonald's? Great, the initial investment can run $2 million. At Chick-fil-A, the total is just $10,000.

Of course, there are many other people -- perhaps a big majority -- who see that question and think, "Wait, what? There's no way I'd ever want to own a Chick-fil-A!"

  • Maybe it's about the idiosyncrasies of their franchise program. Among other things, you can't buy a Chick-fil-A and later sell it. Plus, you usually can't own more than one.
  • For some, maybe it has to do with the chain's place in American culture: Its founders' religiosity and political stances, and its historical social giving priorities. Let's just say they don't align with everybody else's.
  • Beyond that, maybe these are people who hate the idea of running any restaurant. Maybe they don't even like fast food! 

Here's the big point. More than 60,000 people a year start the online application process at Chick-fil-A. When I interviewed Chick-fil-A's executive director of franchisee selection a few years ago, Maureen Donahue, she told me that Chick-fil-A asks this question over and over and over, at every stage of the interview process:

"Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A franchise restaurant?"

Why ask it so often? Because out of those 60,000 initial applicants every year, there are only a small number who could potentially be successful. Running a Chick-fil-A is a hard job, but it would be an especially terrible job for someone who didn't fit the success profile.

(Me, for example: I would be utterly horrible at running a Chick-fil-A for about a million reasons. If I'm ever possessed by some demon that makes me apply for it, Chick-fil-A should immediately reject me.)

"There are all kinds of layers that we can extract from that kind of a question," she told me then. "We're always curious what they come to the table with, but definitely how the responses shift and mature. ... It actually becomes more profound in most cases, as they respond later in the selection process."

Perhaps as much as any other interview I've done, this point has stuck with me. And, I've found myself quoting it lately. Sure, it's amusing that I found it while writing about Chick-fil-A, but this question strategy can benefit almost anyone making any big, important decision in life.

In fact, if you're serving as a mentor to others, or leading a business, I think asking this type of question is some of the best advice you can give, no matter what big decision they're trying to make.

  • Ask yourself, "Why?"
  • Ask yourself more specifically: "Why do you want this, in particular?"
  • And most important, ask that question over and over and over again.

If the person you're advising is considering higher education: "Why do you want to apply to this program and study this field?"

If they're asking you about employment prospects: "Why do you want to work for this company, and what do you hope you'll get out of it?"

Frankly, you should be asking yourself variations: "Why are you asking your employees to dedicate their time to this particular project?" or else, "Why is this the professional calling that you've decided to devote your time to?"

Don't just ask it; don't just advise others to ask it. Encourage them to ask it over and over and over--and even to have others help track their responses if possible.

Beyond business decisions and career questions, it's also probably an incredibly useful strategy for big personal choices:

  • "Why do you want to marry this particular person?"
  • "Why do you want your family to live in this particular city or town?"

I admit: Much like the Chick-fil-A franchise selection process, asking this kind of question over and over can make big decisions more difficult and time-consuming. That's probably why people don't do it.

And, once again, it's kind of odd that it comes from Chick-fil-A. I like their sandwiches, but I didn't exactly start researching their franchise process while expecting to find advice that now seems worthy of the Oracle of Delphi.

But, asking this question comes with two invaluable benefits:

  • You'll find yourself answering with hard answers sometimes -- maybe often. Things like, "I don't know why," or "I can't really say," or else even the big prize when it comes up: "You know what? I don't think I want to do this, after all."
  • And, ultimately, perhaps by process of elimination, you'll finally find the things that you really do want to do -- that you can articulate quickly and passionately, and that ultimately you might be even more likely to succeed at and find fulfillment.

Then, you can celebrate at Chick-fil-A. Or don't. It's your choice to make.