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The Power of Small

The Power of Small

You’ve decided to take on an extravagant vacation over the winter break. But simply deciding to take a trip isn’t enough to actually make it wonderful.

To have a wonder trip, it involves a bunch of small decisions: How do you decide on the perfect destination? When should you travel? Where to stay? What adventures and excursions should you try?

Let’s use Henry Ford’s car business to illustrate how this process works. Most people believe that Ford’s decision to mass produce the Model T is the lynch pin in his success. However, what we fail to see are all the tiny decisions added together that produce a large result.

    Here are the smaller more significant decisions Ford made that made mass producing the Model T the success it was:

    • He reduce the standard workday from nine hours to eight.
    • He doubled the workers pay

    These two decisions alone reduce employee turnover from 370 percent to just 16 percent. And even though he reduced the workday by an hour productivity rose from 40 percent to 70 percent. His decision to focus on employee moral and invest in and improve the lives of his workers made him the world’s greatest automobile maker and a billionaire. This was after he reduced the price of the Model T from $800 to $350 over a nine year span.

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    All these actions, reducing the amount of hours worked per day, doubling their pay and lowering the retail price of the car seem counterintuitive and should have made him lose money. But by making a few smaller decisions that really matter led to the overall decision of mass production a smashing success.

    Don’t we naturally think that bigger is better?

    Research shows that the human brain is hard-wired for efficiency.[1] It seeks and finds the most efficient and energy saving method to do everything. So if possible, our brain would desperately want to just make one big decision that will be beneficial for once and for ever.

    Conscientiously, you are unable to comprehend and understand the process our brain undergoes to do the smallest tasks. You are only aware of larger tasks and processes which are an aggregate of millions of tiny decisions your brain undergoes every second.

    This process and logic should be applied to larger decisions that must be made. You must make multiple small decisions to reach the big one.

      Big is a burden

      There is a reason that big decisions are too hard to make. When you try to make a big decision, you expend a lot of time working and reworking an idea. You try to perfect it. You try to view it from all angles and try to avoid all negative consequences.

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      Aiming for the perfect solution can actually delay and hinder the decision-making process. Very few decisions are perfect without any negative consequences. Striving for a no-consequence solution can lead to you not making a decision at all. And when no decision’s made, nothing’s executed, and nothing gets accomplished.

      Big decisions are also very hard to change. Once you’ve made a big decision, it’s harder to go back and change what’s been done. When you hang you all your hopes on one big decision, you are setting yourself up for a big success or a huge disaster.

      The greater the risk, the greater the consequence. A bad decision can alter your future, ruin your business, cost you money or even a relationship. And when you expend copious amounts of time and effort in making such a large decision, you are more apt to be blind to the fact that your decision was a poor one.

        You’ll stick with it and defend it. You are less likely to change your course which can end up costing you even more time, energy and resources. It’s hard to cut your losses when you make a huge decision.

        Small is big

        You’ve heard less is more, what about small is big? Most successes are not the result of one big decision. Instead, success is constructed from a slew of tiny decisions. Smaller decisions are more flexible.

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        Making smaller decisions also allows you to mitigate risks. You don’t usually make a huge mistake from smaller decisions. Good small decisions create small wins. One small win leads to another and another. They form a chain of good decision-making.

        Big decisions are burdensome and heavy. You are more apt to put off making a decision when a big looming consequence is hanging threateningly over your head. Breaking a decision down into pieces and steps makes the process easier and much less daunting. You progress quicker and build confidence.

        If you decide to to change your lifestyle and eat healthy, it’s better to start by deciding which small actions to integrate into your lifestyle first. In lieu of going completely vegan all at once you may want to start by drinking one more bottle of water per day and replace your normal, unhealthy snacks with fruit.

        If you completely change your entire lifestyle all at once, you will become discouraged. And when you do, it’s hard to shake it off and keep going. However, adapting to drinking more water and eating healthier snacks is easier to adjust and stick to. When you become demotivated and fall off the wagon, it is so much easier to get back up and resume. The risk of failure is smaller which is far less burdensome than trying to cut all meat, dairy and eggs out of your diet in one swoop.

          From bricks to walls

          When you are faced with having to make a big decision, break it down into bite sized chunks.

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          • Think about of the smaller components of this decision.
          • Determine what steps you need to take and what resources you need.

          Make small decisions about these things first. Each small decision adds to the larger one and before you know it, you’ve reached your intended goal.

          Think about Henry Ford and the small adjustments he made. By using the process of small decisions, he changed the entire manufacturing industry forever, impacted the lives of his workers, made the Model T affordable for the common man and became a billionaire during the process.

          Make your big decisions one small decision at a time.

          Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on September 15, 2020

          How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

          How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

          Do you take long to solve career or business problems? It may be time to learn how to use the 5 Whys to make the process simpler.

          Maybe you believe that you need to know 1000 techniques to solve problems faster. The truth is that there isn’t a single technique that can solve all your problems. But despite this reality, you can still solve most of your problems in an effective way.

          How? By leveraging Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys technique. Toyoda used this technique for the Toyota production system, but you can apply it to most of your problems[1]. So, stop trying to memorize dozens of techniques and get ready to work smarter!

          What Is the 5 Whys Method?

          With the 5 Whys technique, you have to ask 5 questions.

          Simple, right? Whenever you’re facing a problem, ask what may have contributed to the current results. Then, continue asking 5 times, or until you reach the root cause.

          The 5 Whys | Find the Root Cause of a Problem Fast

            How do you know that this technique works? Well, Toyota has successfully implemented this technique to improve their assembly line. Now imagine what it can do to help you solve common problems[2]!

            The 5 Whys process isn’t complex, but it’ll take time to get used to. If you’re like most, you tend to jump at finding solutions when solving problems. Instead, start by asking one question each time you’re facing a problem.

            It can be for anything minor such as being stuck in traffic. In this case, your first question would be why you didn’t avoid traffic. Ask a single question for all your problems, and continue adding more until you ask 5 by default.

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            Eventually, you’ll know when to ask the 5 Whys and find a root cause to most of your problems. But, you don’t always have to work alone. When you work with unfamiliar topics, work with team members to brainstorm answers.

            If you want to know how to be a great team player, check out this article.

            For example, if you’re troubleshooting a bad marketing campaign for your business, work with your marketing team to find a solution. As a business owner, you’ll wear many hats but won’t be able to find a root cause to most of your problems alone.

            How to Ask the 5 Whys Efficiently

            Before you start asking the 5 Whys, you need to prepare to get the best results. Here’s the flow process for solving a real-world problem:

            1. Get the Right Resources

            You don’t know what you don’t know. So, gather information through books and online resources before solving a problem. You’ll find yourself researching more often for topics you’re not familiar with.

            If you don’t prepare, you’ll limit yourself to an ineffective root cause.

            You can also surround yourself with people who specialize in certain areas. This way you can work together with your group to find the best root cause of a problem.

            Your goal here is to feel comfortable with the questions you’re working with. Avoid answering questions you’re unsure of because you’ll most likely end up with a bad root cause.

            2. Understand the Problem

            Before you solve any problem, it’s important to know the nature of the problem you’re solving. This will help you avoid finding an irrelevant root cause.

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            When you define the problem, you’ll also avoid confusion when working with teams. For example, when working in teams, often it’s easy to assume that everyone is working on the same problem. But this isn’t always the case and can cause teams working to solve two different problems.

            3. Ask Your First 5 Questions

            Once you’ve spent enough time preparing, ask your first question. Instead of giving quick answers, brainstorm which answers will bring the most value. Each question depends on its predecessor, so give meaningful answers.

            The rule of thumb here is to keep repeating why five times until you’ve found a potential root cause. Typically, 5 questions or less is enough to solve the most common problems, but don’t limit yourself to 5 questions if it’s genuinely necessary to ask more.

            Instead, keep asking questions until you can’t anymore.

            4. Find Your Root Cause

            The main goal for using the 5 Whys framework is to end up with a root cause for the issue you’re experiencing. You should come up with an answer that helps you understand when/why the problem occurs.

            It’s also used to address high-level issues so that you can track your progress afterward. By addressing high-level issues, you’ll solve problems quicker before addressing the root cause.

            An Example of the 5 Whys

            Learning about the 5 Whys framework is great, but having real-world examples is better. Here’s an example you can use as a template for when you’re solving real-world problems:

            Problem: Employers haven’t called me back for an interview for the past 3 months

            • Question 1: Why is my resume not getting noticed by employers?
              Because it’s too generic and not showing any special skills for the roles you’re applying to.
            • Question 2: Why is my resume too generic?
              Because I want it to appeal to many professions.
            • Question 3: Why do I want to apply to many professions?
              Because I want to increase my chances of getting hired.
            • Question4: Why would applying to several professions increase my odds at getting hired?
              Because I wouldn’t limit myself to available job openings at one specific profession.
            • Question 5: Why would I limit myself to job openings available?
              Because there is a high demand for my profession.

            In this scenario, you’d stop at question 5 because you’ve found a potential root cause.

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            Since there’s a lot of competition for your industry, your resume needs to stand out. Who do you think an employer will hire, a jack of all trades or an expert in their profession?

            Whenever you’re working with a problem, take time to brainstorm the best questions. That’s because it’ll impact the quality of the root cause you’ll end up with.

            When Do the 5 Whys Not Work?

            As you’ve seen, the 5 Whys isn’t complicated and can be used for many kinds of problems, but it takes a lot of effort to execute correctly. When done right, it can help you find the culprit to most of your common problems. The problem is that this technique isn’t suited for every situation.

            Unreplicable Results

            You won’t be able to replicate the same results. Think about it: you’re creating your own questions and answering them in a unique way. No one else would be able to replicate your results for the most part.

            This means that even two teams working in the same environment will come up with two separate answers.

            Limited by the Knowledge Available

            As mentioned before, gather enough information when solving an unknown problem. The problem is that you won’t always have the best resources available. Because of this, you’ll limit yourself to the quality of your answers.

            If you’re ever facing an unknown topic, try a different problem-solving technique.

            Focusing on a Single Root Cause

            The main goal behind using the 5 Whys is to come up with a single root cause. But all problems don’t always have a single solution. For example, a marketing campaign can have a best, good, and worst case scenario.

            These limitations don’t make the 5 Whys a bad technique to use. Instead, they let you know how to use this technique more effectively.

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            The 5 Whys works best for improving processes and solving simple problems, but it falls short when working with complex problems. That’s why you’ll need to know other alternatives.

            For example, a company’s low customer response rate may be due to several factors. In this case, you’d choose a technique that’s better suited to solve complex problems. Determine which problems you face the most to know which techniques will help you the most.

            The Bottom Line

            Imagine conquering issues most people give up on.

            People would look at you and assume that you know 1000 ways to solve a problem. The truth is that not much has changed since you’d struggled with solving problems.

            But you’re now using a proven system that’s made your life easier.

            You’re a problem-solving machine.

            If you don’t believe this can be your reality, you’re wrong. You have what it takes to solve your problems, but you’ll need to practice. Start by asking one question today as you face a problem.

            Then, keep doing the same until you’re asking several questions for each of your problems. You won’t master the 5 Whys analysis overnight, but, with enough practice, this technique will feel more natural.

            More Problem Solving Techniques

            Featured photo credit: Startaê Team via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Harvard Business Review: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
            [2] Harvard Business Review: The Five Whys for Start-Ups

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