‘Why?’ What Is It Good For (Absolutely Nuthin’?)

A Two-Minute Read

Ancient wisdom tells us that a great problem-solving process is to the “Five Whys”.

Ignore for a moment the fact that it’s not even a process. It’s simply not effective – for two reasons.

  • For one thing, asking “Why” five times – for anyone over the age of, say, seven – is a recipe for a knuckle sandwich.
  • For another, it actually doesn’t solve any problems.

The whole idea behind the technique (only tools call it a “tool”) is to get to the point where you say, “I don’t know.” I hate to be presumptuous, but this scenario doesn’t ring true:

Spoiler alert! In the next scene, the character’s name is “Your Former Boss”.

Is “Five Why’s” absolutely useless? How are we supposed to resolve anything if we don’t ask big, open-ended questions?

Apply As Directed

The fundamental purpose of problem-solving is to answer “I Don’t Know Why” something happened.

Asking “Why?” five times – or a dozen, or a hundred – won’t solve your problem, but it will frame it and indicate you’re working on the right thing:

Problem solved? Hardly!

BUT – now you know that you have to solve for “Needles double-punching fabric”, which narrows your focus and expedites getting the right problem-solving team in place.



No Shortcuts

There are no shortcuts to effective problem-solving. There are, though, longer paths than others.

Asking the famous “Five Why’s” won’t get the job done on its own – but it will make sure you start your journey at the most appropriate spot.



Banner Photo by Evan Dennis

Train Platform Photo by Dan Gold