You probably at one point or another have been around a kid that asks "why". A lot. As kids, we were told to stop asking why, so I think that as adults we have lost this art of inquiry. It is not always socially acceptable to ask why, and at times just inappropriate.
As a project manager I have to ask people why - and I have come to realize that most people don't like it. Why don't we like being asked why? (See what I did there?) My theory is that we don't like being asked why, because it forces us to think about an answer. And sometimes we have to think long and hard. And we just don't have the time for that!
But when you are setting goals or looking for ways to improve yourself, you want to push yourself to think long and hard and make sure you really are focusing on the correct thing.
"A single question can be more influential than a thousand statements."
Since I am pretty lazy efficient, I don’t want to waste any time on fixing something unless; one, something really is broken, and two, the situation will be improved. I have always been told that it takes at least 5 Whys to get to the root of the problem. Let's try it out.
Think of a problem that you have - and then write it down.
Now, ask yourself why you have this problem and write down that answer. Keep asking why until you have drilled down enough that you have found the true root cause of the problem. Don’t just ask yourself why, you may need to ask other people why as well; never assume that you know why someone else does something.
Here is an example of someone who is always late and wants to correct it:
(Problem) I am always late. (Why?) I can't find anything (Why?) The coat closet is a mess (Why?) Everything is on the floor (Why?) Kids throw their coats on top of the shoes. (Ask them why?) They can't reach the rod.
Ah ha! It looks like we have a situation here that could be easily fixed! We could lower the rod, we could add another rod at kid height, we could add hooks, etc.
Imagine if you hadn't kept asking why.
You may not have realized what the real problem was. What if you just set your alarm earlier? What if you removed your shoes from the closet so you could find them faster? You would soon discover that you still had a problem, and that the coats were still lying on the floor of the closet. (And you were grumpy from getting less sleep, and from tripping over those shoes.)
If you had not determined the true problem, you could have wasted even more time until you figured it out. Or eventually the kids would grow taller, whichever happened first.
Everyone is always looking for a way to do things better, faster, cheaper, etc. Huge corporations waste time and money trying new things over and over until they find something that sticks. A few companies have figured out that if they determine the problem first, they can ensure that they are implementing the correct solution. I did a Google search for “the power of asking why”, and of the results on the first page, there was only one that related to personal growth, the rest were business related.
But there is no reason why we can’t do the same for our own personal lives.
So remember, next time you want to make a change in your life, your home, or your work, stop for a few minutes and ask yourself why. And keep asking. And asking.
Download this free worksheet What's the Real Problem? to help you identify the root cause of any problems that you might be itching to solve!
Have you had an experience where finding the real problem saved you a lot of time and energy? If you try out this exercise, please share what you discover!