Zain K.

The most logical approach to any problem- Ask yourself “why” five times

June 18, 2021

During my time working as a mechanical engineer, my boss introduced me to the concept of ‘5-Why’. This surprisingly is a well known approach in the industry and is used quite often. It begins by asking a series of ‘why’ for every information that you get until you get to the root cause.

Personally, I used this to find out the root cause of equipments’ trippings. To give you an example, once an engine driven positive displacement pump tripped due to low coolant level. The indication was clear but I took a few minutes to analyze it. Why did it trip? Simple, the coolant level was low. Why? Because the operator forgot to top it up the previous day. Why? The operator was responsible for looking after several equipment which often were several kilometers apart. So, it wasn’t humanly possible to physically visit all the equipment every day. Solution? Re-allocate the work to include physically close-together equipment to each operator’s domain. I know I got to the root-cause on my third ‘why’ and reaching till the fifth ‘why’ is often rare. But that is how far you should go if you can’t find the real reason.

If this approach is so successful in the industry, can we employ it in our personal lives? I definitely think so. The next time a friend of yours or someone close to you does something to make you angry, ask yourself ‘why’ did he/she do it. More often than not you will find that his actions are justified, at least in his mind. And if he thinks his actions are justified, he won’t even realize you feel bad about it, let alone being angered by it. For you, the only way to deal with the situation is with logic. By asking a series of ‘why’ questions and understanding the reason of an act, you can see the whole scenario from the other person’s perspective. In doing so, maybe you will realize his act was justified after all. And you being triggered by it was an over reaction. Or maybe you will realize the other person did something out of pressure of a superior (read: boss). Or maybe his action was in fact unjustified. But until you have dealt with the situation logically, you won’t be able to decide that. Remember, emotions often cause out-of-the-place reactions.

Try using this 5-Why approach the next time you run into a difficult situation. Even if it reassures you in the end that your initial emotional reaction was correct, the time you spend trying to probe into the issue will be the time you will be suppressing your emotions. And isn’t that exactly what we should do when angry or upset?

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