Do You Ask Why Enough? How About Trying 5 Whys?

Colorful yellow card with printed question mark

When you examine that one word why, its meaning is quite grounded: for what reason or purpose. When asked once, it can elicit a ton of information. But true motivation is hiding somewhere in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th time you ask why.

In a podcast by Charles Duhigg on his latest book, Smarter, Faster, Better, he mentioned the importance of asking the question why when it comes to helping you be more productive throughout your day. He focused on defining “productive” not in the traditional sense of getting a lot done, but more in the line of getting THE RIGHT things done.

He borrowed a concept from lean manufacturing known as 5 Why’s. It’s a technique to help get to the root cause of a defect or problem. Definite application to manufacturing, but have you ever thought about what might happen if you apply it to your life?

Here’s an example he cited from his life. He and his wife are both very busy people and they have young children. They had a goal to have dinner every night as a family, but found it was just too tough to get the timing right. They’d get caught up with last minute details at work or never leave in enough time to beat traffic.

They realized some things were out of their control but by asking some why’s they determined a root cause they actually could control.

Here’s how it went:

Why can’t we make it home on time? Because I get stuck reading emails I’ve put off all day.

Why do I put them off? Because I have meetings to get to and people who demand my time.

Why can’t I do them first thing? Because I never get into the office early enough. I’m usually just in time for my first meeting of the day.

Why can’t I get into the office sooner? Because the kids demand so much time to get ready in the morning. Choosing clothes takes forever until we find the right pair of pants.

Why can’t we choose the right pants at night before we go to sleep? WE CAN!!!!

That simple exercise allowed them to start and end their days more effectively to get accomplished what was really important.

It all seems so simple, but if they would have stopped asking why at the first question, they would have gotten hung up on it being a reading emails at work issue. It was actually an issue that needed attention at home and a reorganization of a family routine helped them have dinner as a family more often.

Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions, not by his answers.” It’s obvious asking YOURSELF good questions is an effective way to get important things done.

So, what’s going on in your life that could benefit from a little 5 Why treatment? We’d love to hear. Please send us your comments.

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