“Systematically asking why an event occurs or a condition exists. The question ‘why?’ is applied to each response until the root cause of the event or condition is found. Sometimes the root cause is identified by the 2nd or 3rd “why.” In other situations it may take 6-7 ‘why’s’ to get to the root cause. Try to get to the 5th level without getting to an absurd level of detail.
“At the heart of this simple tool is the belief that real problem solving occurs when the cause, rather than the symptom, of the problem is addressed. This is often referred to as ‘drilling down’ to the heart of the problem. Dr. Kano refers to this ‘drilling down’ as ‘going an inch wide and a mile deep into a problem’ (real understanding leading to targeted solutions) rather than ‘going a mile wide and an inch deep into a problem’ (superficial understanding leading to shotgun solutions). At a more philosophical level, the 5 Why’s also demonstrate Dr. Deming’s principle that the real problem usually lies in the deeper system rather than in the performance of an individual who is working within that system.”
An example of the Five Whys:
More recently, Simon Sinek has written about Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. His Ted talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” gets quickly to the core of being clear about your “why.”
I was reminded of this video while listening to Nathan Gold, The Demo Coach, at the Citrix StartupAccelerator, as he asserted that professionals spend 90% of their time on the WHAT, 7% of their time on the HOW, and less than 1% of their time on WHY.
Why is thinking about “Why” so difficult?
Sherril Small asks the same kinds of questions of entrepreneurs while working through their customer positioning thinking. Delightfully she asks the entrepreneur to think through the “why” questions from the customer perspective:
- Why Me?
- Why Now?
- Why This Product?
If you find yourself buried in yet more of the same WHAT and HOW questions, break through the clutter with one or more variants of the “lost power of WHY.”
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