Asking why five times is a commonly used tool (and expression) to get to the root of an issue. In the system developed in Japan by Sakichi Toyoda of Toyota Motor Company fame this is a commonly used tool and technique to dive into issues and seek both the problems and the solutions. In the methodology (as shown below in an excerpt) there is a simple elegance to asking why in an attempt to get to the root cause of an issue. If needed The 5 Why’s can be repeated.
The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
It does work. However, there can be drawbacks if used too often or too egregiously.
I have found that asking why 5 times does one of two things:
1. You get to the root of the issue.
2. You get punched in the face.
Of course, we have all seen and heard kids ask why over and over again. You could say they are onto something … and they are. However, in business and in your adult life you should use your “Why’s” sparingly or perhaps silently. By asking yourself why (silently) you can dig for the root of an issue.
I think this is how Columbo solved a lot of crimes on the TV show, then he saved the obvious questions and conclusions (root causes) for the TV camera when he’d say “just one more thing”
When used wisely, the use of the word why … or what I call “Solving for Why” can help you stand out in your career. By using why judiciously and, as mentioned above silently, you can dig into the root issues impacting challenges at work, in life and even in relationships. Then, when you are ready … ask the questions out loud and you’ll be ready to tackle bigger problems.
Solving for Why is a powerful tool. Use it wisely, use it often and pretty soon people will be asking you to think about their biggest challenges and asking you to help seek out the problems and the solutions that are vexing them.
The only question left is … Why haven’t you started yet?