Some words have particular power. When you use them, amazing things happen.
One of these is WHY.
You will notice your kids completely understand the power of this one. They love to ask: "Why, why, why?" They seem to not know there should be a limit to the use of this word.
As adults, we focus more on the what, how, when and who. These ones often seem simpler and more actionable. But the why has most of the deeps answers. Ask why five times and truly answer each one, and you will really get to the heart of pretty much anything.
It's called “5 Whys," and it's an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question "Why?" Each answer forms the basis of the next question.”
Toyota Motor Corporation used this method as they evolved their manufacturing methodologies. The architect of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, described the 5 Whys method as "the basis of Toyota's scientific approach … by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear. In other companies, it appears in other forms and includes goal setting and decision making. It is now used widely, including within Kaizen, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma.
But you don’t need to be a process professional or involved in manufacturing to benefit from the technique.
All you need to do is ask WHY liberally. Then answer each one honestly and deeply. It works for every role you have in your life. Using this three letter word five times will help you get the cause of what is happening or what doesn’t make sense. You will be amazed at what insights and answers reveal themselves. It is particularly great to use after failure or when you feel stuck or trapped.
It also works with some of those vexing big life questions. Here is an example from my past. I have written about my early failures in my undergraduate studies.
Why did I chose pre-med when I was a freshman in college?
Because I had a mental model that smart people become doctors.
Why did I fail at this pursuit after having done so well in high school including in math and science?
Because my mental model was flawed, and I didn’t fully explore whether the study and the everyday responsibilities of a doctor suited my strengths and goals.
Why did that early, painful and confusing failure open so many doors to me?
Because when I had to face the reality of failure and really dig into my strengths and goals, it allowed me to find a career path that was a better fit for me based on understanding myself more deeply.
Why did I need that learning to discover what was next?
Because I needed to go through the challenging process of not meeting my own expectations of myself and have to deeply explore why to break down my original mental model to open up my mind to a build a different one.
Why do I keep repeating this pattern?
Because when I fail or hit a brick wall, I find I am holding mental models that don’t serve me, and I can then start the process to understand what was wrong with my original one and then develop better new ones that would allow me to continue to become the best version of myself.
Give it a try and let me know what you discover.