One of the biggest barriers to creating new ideas is the raw inertia of organizations.
Personally, I am not satisfied with the “way we’ve always done it.” Whenever I am given an explanation of how the organization does something, I ask “why?” five times. That’s my maxim for generating new insights: “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” By the time I get to the fifth why, I have usually found an insight or an opportunity to improve something. By the way, every time I think of the five whys, I picture this inquisitive baby. You just know he’s about to ask “why?”
Because my maxim is simply five whys, it serves as a regular reminder for me to challenge the status quo, continue to learn, and seek new opportunities to do things differently. It also helps me ferret out risks to the business if those five whys reveal outdated assumptions about the world. If we are doing something based on old assumptions and the new reality is different, the actions we are taking are potentially wrong and we could be unwittingly damaging our business. I see it as my responsibility to find and defuse those time bombs before they blow up in our faces.
I am not the creator of “the five whys” but I loved it so much the first time I heard it I adopted it as my maxim. It is more than a concept to me though. There is a personal and emotional story behind it.
I stole “the five whys” from one of my first consulting engagement managers. He stole it from the leaders who had taught him and so on. I invite you to steal it from me if you like.
Here’s how our little interaction played out:
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