Apparently asking, "Why?" over and over is not just for annoying four-year-olds. The Five Whys is the Japanese philosophy of asking why five times to find the direct sources of your problems. Recognizing and accepting one's problems in the right spirit is imperative to beginning the process of healing. While some problems are evidently unimportant, others need to be faced in their totality. It often becomes a habit with people to push away problems that seem insurmountable, forgetting that they will reappear, maybe in a more destructive form.
Every problem involving human interactions stems from one or more root causes. Committing to clearly identifying and dealing with the core issues is the first step in problem solving. Repeatedly asking the question "Why?" peels away superficial layers of the "problem" and reveals the root causes. Although this technique is called the "Five Whys," you may ask the question fewer than or more than five times before you reach the root. The Five Whys was created for a team setting but can be used alone when dealing with personal problems.
The Five Whys works at getting to the heart of your desires as well. When setting new goals, I ask myself, "Why do I really want this?" It's a great way to make sure that what you want is not just a Band-Aid for a deeper problem. Using the Five Whys on a regular basis will give you a fresh perspective and help you gain a more optimistic view of your problems as well as lessen your need for material things by establishing your values and priorities. Paring the "Five Whys" with goal setting will give you a powerful motivator that will keep you encouraged to stay positive and to work hard during difficult times.
How To Complete The Five Whys
1. Write down one specific problem.
2. Ask why the problem happens and write the answer.
3. If that answer doesn't identify the root cause of the problem ask why again and write that answer down.
4. Return to step 3 until you/your team feels confident that the problem's root cause is identified.
Five Whys Examples
Problem Statement: On the way home from work and your car stops in the middle of the road.
1. Why did your car stop?
- Because it ran out of gas.
2. Why did it run out of gas?
- Because I forgot to stop at a gas station on my way to work.
3. Why did you forget to stop at a gas station this morning?
- Because I over slept and I was running late.
4. Why did you oversleep?
- Because I was up late watching TV.
5. Why were you up late watching TV?
- Work is stressful. I need to relax first or I won't be able to fall asleep.
Mastering The Five Whys
Bill Wilson of Bill-Wilson.net writes that a major disadvantage of The Five Whys is that if you make a mistake answering just one "why" question, your entire analysis gets thrown off. If you want to avoid this problem, try modifying the questioning process as follows. Once you've finished your initial line of questioning, go back to your answer for the first "why" and ask some other questions.
- What proof do I have that this cause exists? (Is it concrete? Is it measurable?)
- What proof do I have that this cause could lead to the stated effect? (Am I merely asserting causation?)
- What proof do I have that this cause actually contributed to the problem I'm looking at? (Even given that it exists and could lead to this problem, how do I know it wasn't actually something else?)
- Is anything else needed, along with this cause, for the stated effect to occur? (Is it self-sufficient? Is something needed to help it along?)
- Can anything else, besides this cause, lead to the stated effect? (Are there alternative explanations that fit better? What other risks are there?)
"If you don't ask the right questions, you don't get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems." -- Edward Hodnet