By asking "why?" five times, you can drive to a deeper understanding of the issue and more easily get to root cause. In this video, learn how to apply the five whys to your tough problems.
- One of the most effective critical thinking tools I've ever come across is the five whys. 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. And when I went to lunch with my project manager, he said, "What have you been doing today?" And I said, "Well, I was doing the analysis on this one category of spend." And he said, "Okay, what'd you learn?" I said, "Well, I think this is happening." And 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." And he said, "Okay, well why?" "What do you mean why?" "Well, why would that be happening?" And I stopped and I thought, and I said, "Well, it might be this." And he said, "Well, why?" And I said, "Oh my gosh, what's with the whys?" And 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. And 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 whys." And I took that away from that day, and any time 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 whys 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. And 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.
- Identify how to break down complicated issues into smaller components.
- Determine the definition of an effective problem statement.
- Identify the primary benefit of focusing questions.
- Identify a problem's root causes.
- Apply critical thinking tools to analyze and unpack consequences.
- Recognize how to prepare others to think critically.