Skip to content

The Five Whys

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last year about how to run your family like a business.  Once you get past the potentially off-putting juxtaposition of business and family, it includes some great ideas — things like weekly meetings and a family mission statement.  This translation from a business organization to a family makes sense; businesses have worked for more than a century to run efficiently, build community, and solve complex problems — things we need to do in our families and in our lives.

One example from the business world I’ve been using in my life recently is a problem solving method called the “5 Whys.”  Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used within Toyota Motor Corporation, this method is overwhelmingly simple: ask “why” five times when you’re trying to solve a problem.  This magic number of five is generally enough to get to the root cause of a problem.  Here’s the example Wikipedia uses to describe this in the manufacturing world:

PROBLEM: The vehicle will not start.

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

In our personal lives, this exercise can be a great way to get “unstuck” when you’re feeling frustrated and unsure exactly why and in turn, what to do about it.  Let’s look at an example of how it works in life.

PROBLEM: I can’t get out of bed in the morning to do my workout.

  1. Why? – I feel exhausted. (first why)
  2. Why? – I’m going to bed too late. (second why)
  3. Why? – I’m working late into the evening every night. (third why)
  4. Why? – I’m leaving work at 5pm every day to pick up my kids. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – My kids need to be picked up at 5pm.

This leads to an interesting result.  Would it be possible to solve the issue of waking up early by finding someone else to pick up the kids a few days a week, helping me finish my work at the office?  This solution may not have been evident at face value.  Let’s look at another very basic example:

PROBLEM: I feel anxious is my life right now.

  1. Why? – I’m stressed out about work, and I bring that stress home. (first why)
  2. Why? – I can’t decide what the next step in my career should be. (second why)
  3. Why? – I am afraid of making a mistake and choosing the wrong thing. (third why)
  4. Why? – I’ve chosen the wrong thing before. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – I have listened to my mind, but not my heart.

In this case, the answer to “why #4” leads to a more honest view of why the anxiety might exist, which in turn, can bring about a solution.

The 5 Whys is a great tool to have in your toolkit as you navigate life.  It can apply to almost any problem, it takes five minutes to do, and it might just help you make the shift from stuck to “unstuck” — designing a life you’re proud of.

And unstuck is a beautiful place to be.

 

Photo by BuzzFarmers, via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Always enjoy your loving, logical posts. – Wanda

    June 6, 2014
  2. Thanks for sharing! I used this technique yesterday and it helped me get to the root of my thinking. It’s easy to walk through using your hand.

    June 9, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. No More Babies: Six Ways I Ended the Heart v. Head Debate | Rudeysroom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Brynn Harrington

strategy + facilitation + communication

Alphabet Scramble

Learning from parenting and life, while trying to get dinner on the table

The Lemonade Chronicles

A quixotic quest for the bright side.

The Balanced Life

A Pilates-inspired lifestyle with Robin Long

mamajamas mom

don't sweat the baby stuff

The Office Blend

ALL THINGS WORK LIFE

The Development Sherpa

by SBK & Associates

wellfesto

hacking health, designing life

Rudeysroom

Rudey's Room

Building Customer Driven SaaS Products | Jason Evanish

Posts on Lean Startups, Jobs to Be Done, Customer Development and Leadership

Jason Good

JASON GOOD - writer and comedian

www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog

Reflections Corner

hacking health, designing life

Brain Pickings

hacking health, designing life

Greater Good In Brief

hacking health, designing life

%d bloggers like this: