Digging deep – asking why?

Although I cannot claim that my research on this matter is comprehensive, it does seem to me that all children go through a stage of asking the question, ‘why?’  For those around them this is a frustrating phase since the question is never just asked once.  Over time the child learns to stop asking the same question repeatedly.  This is a shame, because it can be a great tool for leaders and innovators.

When trying to solve problems or come up with new ideas it is really helpful to use the ‘5 Whys’ tool.  Quite simply you keep asking the question, ‘why’, until you get to a helpful answer.  Very often this means repeating the process five times, as the title suggests, but sometimes it may take more!

Here’s an example of this tool in action for a fictional problem of a lack of financial resources:

  • Why? – people are not donating enough money
  • Why? – they don’t like what we are doing
  • Why? – we are not doing what we set out to do
  • Why? – we got caught up in other things
  • Why? – we lost sight of the vision

In this example if the question had only been asked once, the most likely solution to the problem would have been to encourage (helpfully or unhelpfully) people to give more money.  Given the answers further down the list, not only would this have been unlikely to solve the problem, but it may have alienated and annoyed donors still further.  By asking the question five times, a different problem is identified.  By solving this issue (a lack of vision), the presenting issue (a lack of money) will hopefully be resolved.

It is also worth noting that the questioning process could have carried on pondering why sight of the vision was lost.  This may be helpful, in order to ensure that the problem does not recur .  However, it could also prove to be a wild goose chase.  Care must be taken that the questioning does not stop either too soon or too late.

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