The 5 Whys

The “5 Whys” is a simple yet powerful problem solving tool that helps get to the bottom of a problem. The 5 Whys quickly cuts through the clutter to get the root cause.

This problem solving approach was developed by Sakuchi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor and industrialist. The 5 Why’s later became standard practice at Toyota Motor Corporation.

I’ve used this technique in meetings at work. The trick is to not sound like a five year old. Don’t just start repeating “why?” Try rephrasing the persons response and turn it into a question like, “that’s interesting, why do you think (blank) happened” or “what do you think caused (blank)”.

Try it on your kids. They probably did it to you numerous times. If you are like me, your response after the third why was “because I’m your father”.

Here is an example. Your teenager’s car stopped running.

  1. Why did you car stop running? Because I ran out of gas
  2. Why did you run out of gas? Because I didn’t stop at the gas station on the way to school
  3. Why didn’t you stop at the gas station? Because I had no money
  4. Why didn’t you have any money? I spent all my money last night on pizza with some friends
  5. Why did you spend all your money? I wanted to impress a girl so I picked up the check to look like a big-shot

Viola! the root cause at last.

You can apply this to your inventions.

  • Why won’t companies license my invention? Why? 4X more
  • Why aren’t people visiting my website? (you are tracking it right?) Why? 4X more
  • Why can’t I seem to pick up the phone and cold call a company? Why? 4X more

Just be honest with yourself. You probably know the answer, when you write it out it has greater impact.

Give it a try. Why not? Why? Why? Why?, Why?

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