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Razor-Sharp Thinking: the What-Why Method

Razor-Sharp Thinking: the What-Why Method

Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” As a society, we typically make the complicated commonplace. This is particularly true in regards to problem-solving as we add to the puzzle of complexity daily. My proposal is to introduce a new method combining elements from two simple (yet powerful) techniques to create an awesomely simple, yet effective problem-solving and explanation method.

First, Terry Borton’s Development Framework (What – So What – Now What) as the logical explanation tool. Second, the 5-Why technique used in root-cause analysis (RCA) as the simple problem-solving tool. Using Occam’s razor as my underlying principle, I propose a new method called the What–Why Method.

Crazy Simple!

    Using the military as an example, we find that numerous problem-solving methods exist within the U.S. military. In the U.S. Army alone, we have a smorgasbord of options to select from. From the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) to the Army Design Methodology (ADM) to Lean Six Sigma (LSS), we are not short on options. However, if we follow the philosophy of Occam’s razor, we will find that we can slice through the clutter and identify one simple method.

    Suppose you have two possible explanations for a problem, Occam’s razor demonstrates that the simplest option is typically the best option.[1] Occam’s razor has two parts which serve as the underlying principle of my What-Why Method.

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    1. The Principle of Plurality. Plurality should not be assumed as a fact without necessity.
    2. The Principle of Parsimony. The scientific principle that things are typically connected or behave in the simplest way.

    What – So What – Now What

      Developed in 1970 by Terry Borton, Borton’s Development Framework provides us a straightforward and easy to understand approach to anything.[2] This simple framework involves only three questions, which can easily explain any concept. The questions follow the concept of Reflective Practice, which is the ability to reflect on your actions to engage in the process of learning.[3] Reflective Practice holds three components: Experiences (what happened to you?), Reflective Process (what enables you to learn from the experience?), and Action (what new perspective do you now possess as a result of your reflection?). Borton’s Development Framework possesses the following three questions:

      1. What? The experience.
      2. So What? Analysis of reflection or process of reflection.
      3. Now What? Synthesis and new perspectives from reflection. This is where you determine what to do next and what your next action will be.

      5-Why Technique

        Metaphorically speaking, if we want to kill a weed, we must first find the root. A root-cause is a factor causing nonconformance and should be permanently eliminated. The root-cause is essentially “the evil at the bottom” that sets things in motion causing the problem.[4] Let’s quickly look at the structure of a problem and break down the definition of root-cause via Asq.org.

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          Root-Cause Defined

          • A factor that caused a nonconformance and should be permanently eliminated.
          • A factor that influences a result or outcome.
          • Must be completely eliminated or removed.

          Let’s now turn our attention to root-cause analysis (RCA). RCA is a collective term describing a wide range of approaches and techniques utilized to discover root-causes of problems. The 5-Why technique is one in which we were all experts at when we were children. Essentially, the 5-Why technique is an iterative interrogative technique used to determine the root-cause of a problem by repeatedly asking the question “Why?” The technique was formally developed by Taiichi Ohno and was highly utilized at Toyota. Furthermore, the “5” in the name comes from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve a problem.

          Simple Approach for Thinking

            By using my What-Why Method, we also find that we are able to move through Blooms Classification of Thought Process (otherwise known as Blooms Taxonomy), where we can quickly understand and describe a problem or topic. Additionally, my method takes us through the Hierarchy of Learning along with Blooms Taxonomy.

            When we bring it all together, we find that we now have a way to quickly solve a problem and quickly present or brief information. It also offers us a way to logically and easily categorize and present information, especially if we are posed with a difficult and impromptu question.

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            Easily Explain Anything

              Let’s see how my method works using an example from the foster care system (visit my website for more information on the foster care system). By moving through the questions in the image above (What-Why Method), let’s see what we uncover.

              What?

                So What?

                  Now What?

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                    Lastly, John Driscoll matched Borton’s three questions to the stages of the experiential learning cycle and added trigger questions.[5] By linking trigger questions to Borton’s framework, we are able to produce a clear description of the event, an analysis of the event (critical thinking), and synthesis of the event (creative thinking). Combining the What – So What – Now What framework with the 5-Why technique essentially creates the simplest form of problem-solving in existence. As Wilfred A. Peterson said,

                    See it big and keep it simple.

                    Using the What-Why Method allows us to just that… See it big, yet keep it very simple!

                    Reference

                    [1] Harold Lambert: How Occam’s Razor Works
                    [2] Physio-Pedia: Borton’s Development Framework
                    [3] Skills You Need: Reflective Practice
                    [4] ASQ: What is Root Cause Analysis
                    [5] Driscoll: Critical Reflection

                    More by this author

                    Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                    1 17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities 2 17 Work Related Skills to Equip Yourself with for a Successful Career 3 11 Ways to Impress Employers and Network with Your Professionalism 4 Master These 10 Management Skills to Become a Strong Leader 5 Master These 15 Skills for Success to Get Ahead in Your Career

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                    Last Updated on February 20, 2019

                    17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

                    17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

                    When we look at a job advertisement, it can seem as though employers want an exhaustive list of experience and technical skills from their new hire.

                    They list desirable qualities such as ‘initiative’, ‘team player’ and ‘strong work ethic’. Those words can mean a variety of things to different people and it can be quite hard for employers to illustrate fully the combination of technical and soft skills they want their potential employees to have.

                    What they often want is a mix of versatile skills that make it easy for them (and you) to adapt to the changing needs and demands which occur in businesses today.

                    After all, adaptability and innovation are what make businesses thrive.

                    In today’s ever-changing environment, versatility is a mandatory attitude every working person needs to have. With the following seventeen work skills, you will not only make your employer extremely happy and confident that hiring you was their best decision, you will experience greater personal satisfaction and results.

                    1. Know What You Want but More so Why You Want It

                    Employers need to sense you have a solid idea as to why you are a fit for their role and their organization. They need to sense you have your own sense of purpose.

                    However, it can be a double-edged sword to say you know exactly what you want to achieve and gain if you are successful in your application and interview.

                    Some employers can perceive this as arrogance; your needs first, theirs second. What employers are really looking for is your internal sense of knowing that potential to join their organization is a winning combination for both of you.

                    2. Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution Skills Save Money, Lost Productivity and Efficiency

                    Can you agree to disagree? Can you evaluate without passing judgment or at least be self-aware of your own biases? Can you put these aside to find solutions for the betterment of the team?

                    Employers look for versatility in soft work skills that bring peace, lower stress and contribute to creating harmony. If you have ways with words to help heated arguments reduce to a simmer so there is space for compromises, negotiations and reasoning to take place your employers’ respect for you will jump at least tenfold.

                    Peace-making skills are invaluable in changing workplace culture, particularly toxic ones. Any good employer knows a strong in-house negotiator will save them thousands of dollars in engaging an external mediator.

                    3. Know How to Set and Reframe Your Own Goals

                    Much research has documented that when employees have a clear purpose, mission and goals, they are more likely to be highly productive. They are less likely to flounder around in many directions nor be busy and not produce results that matter.

                    Employers know well that employees who develop their own goals and can align these with those of the company are more self-driven, self-sufficient and take greater ownership for performing their role.

                    And the benefit is not only to the employers. You personally will find greater personal satisfaction from achieving targets you have chosen to set yourself. Everyone wins!

                    4. Great Time Management and Organization Skills Make You Highly Productive

                    Being able to exercise versatility with these work skills needs no explanation. Great time management does not mean multi-tasking. It actually uses more brain power and reduces effectiveness.

                    Having great skills to prioritize your activities and demands, being able to assess how long things might take you to address are planning skills which greatly aid effective and better execution.

                    Working in harmony with your colleagues’ timetables makes for better teamwork and workflow plus a less stressed environment.

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                    In today’s working world, any strategies for reducing stress-invoking opportunities are like finding golden nuggets. Your employer will want to hold on to those for dear life!

                    5. Be a Flexible Team Player by Being Able to Change Roles When Required

                    Employers will be looking to see how flexible a team player, a potential employee could be.

                    If you are a natural leader, being a better team player might, in fact, mean you stepping down from the helm and encouraging someone else to exercise and step into their leadership potential.

                    It might be more beneficial to your employer to play the role of Indian as opposed to the Chief in certain situations. Stepping into different positions on your team not only helps you grow but also the rest of your team.

                    Employers relish having a versatile work team which can adapt and is ready and willing to play different roles, even if uncomfortable when crises happen.

                    6. Initiative, Self-Motivated and Driven

                    When you have your own internal reasons for looking to undertake a role your motivation is driven by something sizzling inside of you.

                    There is a personal drive and desire for the satisfaction you will experience when you meet a certain target that no other person will be able to give to you.

                    When you can genuinely identify and demonstrate your own personal connection to the role’s objectives and the greater goals of your employer’s business, they will see you have an internal drive that they don’t need to whip and flog to keep the momentum going.

                    Any employer will be grateful they just need to help navigate you and support you with the right tools and network and off you go.

                    7. Be Confident but Not Arrogant

                    Imagine if you were conducting initial telephone interviews with shortlisted candidates and one of the questions they asked was:

                    “How long would it be until I’ll be eligible for a pay rise or promotion?”

                    There is a significant difference between being confident and arrogant. Employers are not looking for confidence purely in you being able to perform every aspect of your role at gold star level.

                    It comes with being comfortable to say you don’t understand, you have made a mistake, you need support, further training, acknowledging what your limits are and being willing to risk stepping outside your comfort zone.

                    When you’re a new kid on the block, respecting that you may need to learn to walk before you can run is essential. Unless it is your job to start making significant changes from day one, chances are you’re going to create enemies if you’re so confident your new methods and ideas should replace existing processes.

                    8. A Positive Attitude

                    Demonstrating positivity as a work skill that will truly win over your new employer is about being genuine and actively applying strategies which look for the glass half full.

                    Recruiters and employers are not dumb. They can easily see through short-term bright smiles, nervous giggling and general ‘you just need to think positive’ statements.

                    In the face of grueling challenges, employers are going to look much more favorably on that candidate who can acknowledge the negative features of a situation but still encourage another solution-focused perspective to be adopted.

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                    Even better, if you can use language effectively to demonstrate how you have adopted a positive perspective and helped turned around a tough situation.

                    It is one thing to have a positive attitude but your potential employer will see you as a superhero if you can show them how you have successfully applied it.

                    Take a look at these tips to learn more about staying positive:

                    10 Tips To Make Positive Thinking Easy

                    9. You Are Resourceful but Know the Value of Asking for Help

                    There is nothing more unproductive (let alone frustrating) than that person who simply asks out loud a question to their team when they could simply have Googled the answer.

                    Or worse still, they have a manual at their fingertips which has the answer to their question…they were simply too lazy to look for themselves.

                    Be that person with Sherlock Holmes as their middle name who sleuths like a dog after a buried bone. You can research and turn over stones to discover and learn what you need but you also are able to ask for help and assistance when you need to.

                    Any employer will relish that person who looks to discover the answers to their own questions first before reaching out and asking for help.

                    Hesitate to ask for help? This article may just change your mind:

                    Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!

                    10. Emotional Intelligence Creates a Harmonious Workflow

                    Despite the level of seniority of your role having a strong ability to handle emotions is fast becoming an essential work skill (and also life skill).

                    It is even more desirable for any employer when your work skill set includes the ability to detect, adapt to and have skills in managing certain emotional patterns of others you need to work with, manage or report to.

                    So much time, energy and productivity is lost due to individuals’ lack of skills in this area. Any manager who can see you possess and can demonstrate such versatile work skills will think they’ve won the managerial lottery!

                    You can learn how to improve your Emotional Intelligence from this article:

                    7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

                    11. Be Able to Adapt Your Learning Style

                    There is no real evidence that using preferred learning styles actually increase the rate at which we learn nor the effectiveness of certain styles.

                    However, being able to make changes to what we are given to learn and adapting it to suit our needs and preferences does help us settle into a new work transition sooner.

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                    We also need to recognize that even though we feel uncomfortable learning a new skill a certain way, it might actually be the way we need to receive it to cement the learning. It is also likely that our new employer only knows or has a budget to deliver training in a certain way.

                    Either we can choose to adapt or resist but we know for sure the latter is not going to benefit to anyone.

                    Want to find out what your learning style is? Take this quiz:

                    How This Learning Style Quiz Can Help You Make the Most of Your Life

                    12. Flexible Leadership Style

                    Dan Goleman has conducted extensive research on different leadership styles, emphasizing that being versatile to switch between different styles (e.g. authoritative, coaching, affiliate, coercive, pace-setting) and knowing when to do is a fundamental skill for any leader.

                    Being able to change your style to lead other people is as important as how you lead your own role responsibilities.

                    If you want to be a better leader, these books are great resources:

                    15 Best Leadership Books Every Leader Must Read To Achieve Success

                    13. Incredible Communication Skills That Actively Listen and Give Clear Messages

                    Strong and effective communication across all mediums takes time, life experience and highly developed intuition.

                    Knowing when to use email, a face to face conversation or telephone discussion is one thing. Another is to use words which emotionally connect and influence the receiver to accept, hear and heed your message.

                    Great communicators know that it is their responsibility as much as the receiver for good communication to take place. However, they also know that the receiver may not feel this is the case.

                    When you can listen equally, be sensitive to read between the lines to hear the message of ineffective communicators and can respond kindly with inspiring, equalizing and encouraging words, your influence and general likeability as a new addition to your employer’s team will develop in leaps and bounds.

                    These books are also nice resources to learn effective communication:

                    13 Best Communication Books for Stronger Social Skills & Relationships

                    14. Accountable, Responsible and Dependable

                    We’ve all worked with people or managers at some point who lay external blame the instance something goes wrong.

                    Contrary to popular belief, making mistakes and owning up to it is a highly desirable and versatile work skill that gains loyalty and understanding particularly when mistakes occur.

                    Owning up to errors early allows both yourself and the business to recover quickly and shows you’re willing to take responsibility to continue forward on when you have stumbled.

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                    When you illustrate you can do this, you build your employer’s trust and faith in you.

                    15. Exercise Proactive Self-Awareness

                    Self-reflection is a highly empowering work skill that contributes greatly to becoming better and performing better.

                    When you actively look for the achievement, celebrate your success and look for pockets of where mistakes you have made can be corrected you improve faster, become more effective and make your work easier.

                    When you start to look at your own errors, receiving feedback from your employer about the same errors can feel far less confronting and having corrective conversations is easier, transparent and far less stressful and emotional.

                    You naturally increase your resilience and make life easier for yourself and your employer if you conduct regular self-check-ins and keep your employer updated.

                    Here’s how to practice self-awareness:

                    How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful

                    16. Apply a Problem-Solving Growth Mindset

                    When faced with a problem or challenge, your ability to activate a growth mindset is a highly versatile work skill employers love. Not only are you able to reduce the pain and anguish that a fixed mindset can sustain but your ability to remain open to possibilities to find different pathways or ideas is refreshing and helpful.

                    If your thought patterns automatically ask: “How can we?” or you often think “there must be a way”, you will only contribute to creating growth opportunities for your organization and inspire others to think the same way.

                    Learn more about developing a growth mindset here:

                    5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement

                    17. Be Teachable

                    If you have ever tried to teach someone a new skill or technique and they keep reverting back to traditional ways that are familiar to them, you might have become frustrated to the point of giving up.

                    Don’t be that person who’s stuck in tradition which no longer serves the business. Whether you are entering a new environment, learning new software or negotiation skills, know that all employers need people who are open to being taught.

                    Innovation is a core concern of every business. Innovation means change and change means doing something different.

                    Stay Versatile and Keep Learning

                    Technical skills can often be taught. Ray Croc illustrated how well a systemized franchise can dominate the planet. Over 36,000 McDonald’s establishments around the world are run by managers barely in their twenties!

                    Soft work skills, however, take time to develop, learn and confidently apply.

                    There is a key combination of work skills that would make any candidate employer’s dream. However, the essential factor underlying all of these work skills is versatility.

                    Equip yourself with these 17 work skills, stay curious and keep learning; and you’ll always nail the job you want.

                    More Resources About Career Success

                    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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