5 Why Technique – decision making

I listened to a Podcast by Personality Hackers with Sir John Hargrave and he mentioned using the 5 whys technique to solve problems or make decisions. I investigated and thought this is worth sharing. By repeating the question why (5 times) after every previous answer you should get to the root cause/defect of the problem. It is like peeling an onion you start with your problem and first why.

  1. I can’t start my own blog – why?   I have nothing to say.
  2. Why don’t you have anything to say?   I’m boring
  3. Why do you think you are boring?   I don’t do anything special
  4. Why don’t you do anything special?   I’m afraid of failure
  5. Why are you afraid of failure? Lack of self-confidence

This is my example (for better or worse) and the root cause is lack of self-confidence. The last why is usually a broken process or an alterable behavior. So if we deal with the last why of lack of self-confidence maybe starting the blog will increase self-confidence and also fear of failure. I decided to give another example I found on the web which might explain it better than my example as more concrete.

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

The key is to avoid assumptions and instead trace the problem through layers of concepts/preoccupation. Don’t stop at the first answer – question and drill down and see what comes up. It should be something more concrete that we can deal with not i.e. the alternator is not functioning but the vehicle was not maintained (which is a process) that we can change. The hardest part is making sure we have the correct first question. There is more information on the web I just typed 5 why in the search engine. Have a look and try it out.

5 whys


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