On employing the Five Whys Technique

Jan 24th, 2017 | By | Category: Commentary

Jeff Hough

By Jeff Hough

Recently, I auditioned for a local TEDx event. Giving a TED talk is one of the items on my bucket list and the opportunity was a thrill. I had an idea for a topic and spent some time trying to connect the dots I had floating around in my head.

The day of the audition I worried that I hadn’t developed my idea enough — I was right. The audition didn’t go very well, but I learned some things in the process. The most valuable came from something one of the judges said as I was leaving.

As a parting bit of advice, the judge said to go back and ask myself “Why?” five times. The process leads to discovering the nugget of wisdom at the core of an issue. Since then I have given a lot of thought to the suggestion with interesting results.

The technique of asking “Why?” five times is not new. I had heard of it some years ago but failed to put it in practice. With this new perspective, I have enjoyed a deep dive into the thought process. I discovered that going past two whys is challenging and takes more than a cursory look at a problem.

A great example of asking why comes from Entrepreneur magazine:

1. Why can’t I get everything done at work? Because I have so much to do.

2. Why do you have so much to do? Because I get pulled away from my priorities for other tasks.

3. Why do you get pulled away for other tasks? Because I’m the only one who knows how to do it.

4. Why are you the only one who knows how to do it? Because no one else has been trained.

5. Why has no one else been trained? Because we don’t have a cross-training program.

Employing the Five-Whys Technique is useful after things happen. It provides understanding of the root cause and insight into prevention. It is also useful in examining the vast amounts of data surrounding us.

Along with millions of other people, I had a goal for the New Year to improve my diet. As a data junkie, I began using an online tool — shameless plug for myfitnesspal.com — to track my eating and exercising habits. I have been relentless in collecting data. After about three weeks of focusing on the daily numbers, I looked back at the data history.

The historical data presented a different picture than I was expecting. It told me that I wasn’t as diligent and dedicated as I thought. While the trend was good, the swings between the highs and lows was significant.

Enter the Five Whys. Asking myself “Why?” five times revealed patterns of behavior that weren’t clear in my initial exam. It caused me to think about the cause and effect of things. It was an “ah-ha” moment.

Life and business have thousands of unexpected events. Because things move fast, it is easy to ask “Why?” once or twice and move on to a solution. While the solution may work, is it the best one? Asking “Why?” a couple more times reveals something more elegant and meaningful.

As the complexity of the world increases, it becomes easier to skip deep dives into thought. Yet, that is what we need. Why? Because there are more solutions available than ever. Why? Because there are many voices available providing answers. Why is that a problem? Because it is difficult to know who to trust. Why don’t you know who to trust? Because you don’t always know their qualifications or sources. Why is that important? You need quality information to make quality decisions.

The answer becomes obvious. Verify the internet information from a variety of reputable sources before trusting it. Problem solved.

Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Comment