Do you have kids? I have kids, and I think that anyone who either has kids, or has been around young kids has more than once been confronted by them asking you this seemingly simple question…
Why is some cereal different colors and other cereal is brown?
Why are stop signs red?
Why is daddy wearing a suit to work?
Why are we going to Grandma’s house for dinner?
Why is mommy crying into her glass of wine?
But seriously – what these amazing little mini humans are doing is simply trying to figure out how the world works – and the best way to figure out how something works (or why it doesn’t work) is to ask, “Why?”. This method of asking “Why” is so effective it was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used to improve and evolve manufacturing processes of Toyota. This formal process is known as the “5 Whys” and follows an iterative process of asking “Why” to a series of statements and works to get to the root cause of an issue.
“Our widgets are always 4 weeks behind schedule.”
“Because we have more orders than our manufacturing floor can handle.”
“Because we lack the equipment to ramp up production.”
“Because we didn’t have the budget to buy more equipment.”
“Because we didn’t have the sales to support additional equipment purchases.”
“Because our sales force wasn’t selling effectively.”
In this simplified example it seems as though the final issue brings you back to the start – and since sales is now doing its job, it may be time to revisit the budgets for the equipment needed to keep up with the sales growth – and hopefully get your widget production back on track.
But even if your business has nothing to do with manufacturing, asking “Why” is an effective way of making sure you’re on the right track. And it’s even better when you encourage your team to ask “Why” as well.
“We need to advertise on Facebook.”
“Because our competitors are on Facebook.”
“Because they believe their customers are on Facebook.”
“I don’t know.”
“Because I really haven’t thought about it past the fact that ‘Everyone else is doing it.'”
In this example, asking “Why” gets to the final questions of “Do we really need to advertise on Facebook? Are our customers really there? Is it more effective than another advertising platform?”. Obviously, based on the questions above, more research is needed before any advertising dollars should be spent.
So don’t be afraid to ask “Why” – and don’t be afraid to hear it either. Whether the question is being asked by a 5-year-old or a 35-year-old, digging in and finding out the answer to “Why” will help make sure you have all of the information at hand when you make a decision (and if the 5-year-old is asking, you may find yourself having fun finding out the answers to life’s eternal questions like “Why do I need to eat with a fork?”).