By asking "Why?" five times, you can drive to a deeper understanding of the issue and more easily get to root cause.
- One of the most effective critical thinking tools I've ever come across is the five why's. When I was a young analyst as a consultant, I was at a client engagement and I was responsible for doing a lot of analysis. One morning, I did a bunch of analysis around some things that my client was purchasing. When I went to lunch with my project manager, he said "what have you been doing today?" I said, "well, I was doing the analysis "on this one category of spend." He said "Okay, what'd you learn?" I said "well, I think this is happening." He said "Okay, well, why?" "What do you mean why?" "Well, why is that happening? "Why do you think that's happening?" I said "I don't know, maybe it's this." He said "Okay, well, why?" "What do you mean why?" "Well, why would that be happening?" I stopped and I thought and I said "well it might be this." He said "well, why?" I said "Oh my gosh, what's with the why's?" He said "Mike, our job is to come to insights "for our client.
"we can't be satisfied with that first answer. "we need to ask why and really understand cause." "By the time you ask the fourth or the fifth why, "that's where the real insight is. "That's why it's the five why's." I took that away from that day and anytime I was working on analysis, from that point forward, I would ask why. Why am I seeing the numbers do this and why is that happening and why is that happening? Asking those five why's will lead you to insight.
Let me offer an example. Let's say you're working with a senior executive and that senior executive says "hey, our stock price just plummeted." Okay, well why? Why did that happen? "Well, we missed our earnings." Okay, well, why did that happen? "Well, because we were discounting our prices too much." Okay, well, why were we doing that? "Well, because we wanted to retain our customers, "so we were offering bigger discounts." Okay, well, why are we trying to retain customers with discounts? "Well, because we want to grow market share." Okay, well, why do we want to grow market share? "Well, because that's what the incentive plan is tied to "for all our managers and business unit presidents.
"The bigger the share, the bigger the bonus they get." Well, what happens if we change the incentive plan? If we had just stopped at "hey, the stock price fell, "and it's because we missed earnings "because we were discounting", there's no real insight there. When we keep asking why and peeling it back, we can identify what that true root cause is. Then we can solve it. Then we can have an impact on the organization. The fifth why is where that real insight resides. As you look at a problem you're dealing with, when you see that issue, ask yourself why it's happening, and ask why again and again and again.
By the time you get to that fourth or fifth why, hopefully a new insight will pop out and you'll be able to start solving the real problem that will have a true impact on the organization.
- Breaking big problems into small ones
- Defining the problem statement
- Asking focusing questions
- Finding root causes
- Using critical thinking tools
- Teaching others to think critically