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. 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 i.e. the alternator is not functioning.  Why? 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 typed 5 whys in the search engine. Have a look and try it out.

5 whys

You can always start now!


15 thoughts on “5 Why Technique – decision making

  1. Nenamhart says:

    This is presented in a way that makes this concept easy to understand and apply to everyday situations. We use this method in healthcare for determining why events occurred with patients. It’s called Root Cause Analysis. Loved it, thanks!


  2. ellenbest24 says:

    I heard rapper Donavon Christopher talking about the use of the alphabet this morning on radio 2. He said he writes (without over-thinking) a word fir each letter, that represents what he is truly like and not what others think he’s like . Such as A maybe appealing B maybe Bossy etc… do this for the whole alphabet and you will see things you did not expect . The exercise is great for focussing on who you really are and asking yourself do any of the areas need work because you need to do better or want to hone your skills. It all needs to be your work what you know and not what you wish to see. Any flaws in your thinking will stand out. Example: U for unhappy may have popped in your head and you may never have realised that you were. So now you can ask What makes you unhappy A-z then you have the answers and can work to lift your spirits and make yourself happy. The Question should remain the same for the whole alphabet.
    The Question could be what will make you successful : A author B:book C:consistent etc… then the next one to do (once at Z) is why are you not yet successful, this will give you answers.
    I hope I put it clear enough so you understood. X sorry it was a long reply😊🙃 but it really works.


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