Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

Avatar Jim Macdonald
September 30, 2014
Being in business is a lot like being a psychiatrist. If you can help a client get to the root of a problem, then you can use your awesome set of skills to help them solve it. Help a client solve a nagging problem, and you will hold a place in their heart forever. (I think I took it too far, but let’s move on.) You’ve probably heard about the theory of “The Five Why’s”. If not, it’s a pretty simple premise that is extremely effective. Basically, if you want to get to a solution for a problem or figure out an issue, you ask, “Why?” five times. So I put this to the test the other day when I was upset with my neighbor. Here’s how it started…

I heard through the neighborhood grapevine that my neighbor couldn’t stand our dogs because all they do is bark. Naturally, I have a much closer relationship with our dogs than he does, and know for a fact that they also do a number of other things like tear up pillows, scratch up the wood floors, chew on a variety of valuable objects, and poop. Seriously though, they are really wonderful, loving animals and nobody else in our house is nearly as excited to see me when I get home from work. I should also mention that I often talk casually with my neighbor and occasionally help him with computer problems.

So my initial, gut reaction was, “I am upset with my neighbor”. Now let’s employ the five why’s.

I am upset with my neighbor. Why? Because I love my dogs, but he can’t stand my dogs. Why? Because he says they bark all the time. Why? Because they really aren’t trained not to bark. Why? Because I haven’t taken the time to train them. Why? Because I guess I have just been too lazy and haven’t prioritized that.

So, here’s the interesting part. Take the original question and the final answer and put them together to see if it still makes sense:
“I am upset with my neighbor because I have been too lazy to properly train my dogs.”

What? OK, so now we have arrived at the root of the problem. I can fix this pretty easily without even dealing with my neighbor, because it really has less to do with him than with me. Then, if I am so moved, I can approach my neighbor one day and casually mention how I have worked with the dogs to help minimize their barking and see if he even noticed. Most likely, he will have noticed and will reward me with beer.

So how can you use the five why’s in your business? You can use them to approach any problem or issue, and usually arrive at a positive outcome. I like to ask potential clients the five why’s if they come to us with a problem or a project. The most common one is, “We need a new ____ (insert appropriate word here – logo, website, identity). Often times, a client will come to us asking for a new website and we ask, “Why?” five times and quickly realize that the problem actually lies with their brand identity, which gives us an opportunity to help them with that before approaching the website.

The great thing about the five why’s is that it’s so simple to employ and your clients will think you are some kind of genius! OK, maybe not, but you will often help them find the shortest distance between the problem and the solution. If you are lucky, maybe you will get rewarded with beer.
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