The 5 Whys

The ‘5 Whys’ concept for problem-solving, was recently explained to me and I was so intrigued by its simple childlike nature.  The origins of this technique date way back to the 1930s and it was developed by the founder of Toyota Industries, Sakichi Toyoda. Toyota and many more companies still use this tool for problem-solving and innovation.

It’s really as simple as it sounds: whenever faced with a problem, ask ‘why’, and repeatedly ask ‘why’, 5 times,  to every answer that is uncovered. Essentially, this helps to unravel a deeper layer and hopefully reach the source or core of a problem.  Answering the ‘5 whys’ line of questioning gets harder and harder and requires a closer analysis to come up with a legitimate answer; ultimately unravelling/funnelling down to the root or origin of the matter.  Its simplicity and practicality are so applicable to any business model, innovation and I would also say, even to ourselves.

What would it look like, if we consciously and mindfully began asking ourselves ´why’?

The idea of continuously asking why, reminded me a lot of young and inquisitive toddlers; always asking ‘but why’ and testing the adult’s patience.  They are eager to understand and make sense of the world and their environment. They have no inhibitions and are in tune with their innate needs.  Needless to say that they have no problems voicing when they want something! However, as we get older, we learn to just accept. We learn to adapt and fit in with our social environment, we become obedient without questioning or reasoning. Instead, our innate curiosity is muted by the acceptance of societal norms, the social media perceptions, the unasked-for opinions and the unsaid expectations.

Our understanding of ourselves becomes blurry and tainted in our quest for acceptance.  We tune into what others expect from us and we disregard our true nature. The more we try to harmonize with the external world, the more incompatible we are with ourselves and our internal world.  

What would it look like if we started objectively asking ourselves ‘why’ more often? Why am I feeling dissatisfied? Why am I feeling unfulfilled? Why am I scared? Why am I nervous? Why am I behaving like this? Why do I react this way?

Most of the time, the answer is quite simple and we can find a superficial reason or point to a person to blame.  However, often there is a deeper reason for our discordant feelings and it sits closer to our centre and precariously close to a very fragile part of our being. It’s the parts of us that we have muted and ignored; to the extent that we become afraid of acknowledging and exposing this part of ourselves.  This is exactly what makes asking ‘why’, so intimidating. 

‘Why’ suddenly loses its childlike, and curious naivety. ‘Why’ becomes an interrogation of the self and we find ourselves in a personal, self-intervention.  The closer we get to the root of our discordance, the more uncomfortable it may get.  However, it is exactly in this discomfort, that we begin to slowly build a partnership with ourselves.  We learn to subjectively ask questions, identify weaknesses, and understand our actions.  By identifying our ‘less than perfect’ aspects, the weight of their ‘significance suddenly lightens or perhaps even dissolves.  Perhaps we even notice an empathetic reaction to ourselves and a softening in the uncovering of the self. It sobers up our habit of judgment and scrutiny and opens a space for equanimity and self-compassion. 

‘Why’, is what we ask when we don’t understand. It is something we ask when we are faced with things that make no sense. ‘Why’ is the gateway to a deeper knowledge and the side effect of a curious mind. It is the most basic, fundamental, and even primitive question that human beings have been asking for centuries. A simple question, with complex answers but with a powerful momentum. 

Unlike issues in a corporate world or an innovative company, we are not problems that NEED solving. We can never be solved.  We are problematic, paradoxical beings.  And as soon as we are ‘solved’ we will find something or someone to solve.  We always strive for undisrupted happiness and a linear journey in life however,  there will always be something to question, something to answer, and something to uncover.  We are not striving to become a finished product as a perfect human being.  We should be striving to continuously evolve and revert back to our childlike inquisitiveness; an ever-elvoving awareness.

Yours, S Xx

“Ah, but my dear sir, the why must never be obvious. That is the whole point.” 

Agatha Christie

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