Why, why, why? – Challenging the Status Quo

November 1st, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Creativity | Innovation | Mind | Problem Solving

“Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Did you know that if you ask “Why?” three to five times you can identify the root cause of a problem or issue? Children often ask “Why?” because their curious and open mind is trying to explore how things work or they are trying to better understand their surrounding environment. As adults we tend not to ask “Why?” that often because we either have already formed our own preconceived perceptions or are afraid to challenge the status quo.

A Why-Why diagram can be used to identify the causes of a particular situation in a systematic way[1]. The Figure below shows an example of a Why-Why diagram. The problem statement is written on the left hand side and then by asking “Why?” a number of possible causes are identified. Asking “Why?” again leads us to further causes and finally to the root causes of  problem. Even though it is simple, this technique is very powerful because it looks at the overall problem as opposed to focusing on a single cause.

The example in the Why-Why Diagram above aims to solve the problem of poor sales relating to a particular product. In many organisations the result of poor sales of a product is usually perceived as poor performance of the Sales Manager and/or the Sales Team. The first inclination is to replace the Sales Manager and/or the Sales Team, however when this is done inconsiderately the result is typically the same – continuing poor sales. The organisation has failed to clearly identify the root cause of the problem. From the example above there can be a number of different reasons why a product has poor sales. The Why-Why Diagram provides a disciplined approach to explore all the possible causes of a problem and not to focus on a single preconceived possible cause.

Humans need to continue to ask “Why?” as a means of fulfilling the needs of their curious minds. We also have been given the freedom and opportunity to challenge the status quo in our society, in our environment, of our governments and in our working lives, otherwise we will become complacent and accept what we have been told by someone else.

As an exercise try applying the Why-Why Diagram technique to a problem you are facing in your personal or business life. You can use the template I have provided – Why-Why Template.

Dr John Kapeleris


[1] Higgins, J.A. (1994), 101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques, New Management Publishing Company, Florida

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