The 5 Whys

(*information obtained from the book “A More Beautiful Question”)

The Five Whys methodology originated in Japan and is credited to Sakihi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries.

Toyota used the practice of asking why five times in a succession as a means of getting to the root of a particular manufacturing problem. For example, a faculty car part that came out a factory, asking why the (1) first time would yield the most obvious answer; say, that someone on the assembly line had made a mistake. By then asking why (2) that mistake occurred, an underlying cause might surface; such as insufficient training on a task. Asking why (3) again, the company might discover the training program was underfunded; and asking why (4) about that could lead back to fundamental company priorities about where money should be spent and what was important in the end.

As seen above, you might get to something important after four whys, other times it might take six or more.

This is a good strategy because people are inclined to look for the easiest, most obvious explanation for a problem. In addition, we tend to personalize things that are really systemic. For example, it’s easier to just blame the assembly-line worker than to consider all the complex, interrelated factors that may be contributing to the problem.

The five whys can be used outside of business; it can be used for behavioral issues or lifestyle issues.

  • Why do you exercise? Because it’s healthy
  • Why is it healthy? Because it raises my heart rate
  • Why is that important? So that I burn more calories
  • Why do you want to do that? To lose weight
  • Why are you trying to lose weight? I feel social pressure to look fit

However, many times you do it, asking, “Why?” repeatedly does seem to have value in all kind of endeavors that require getting at deeper truths.

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