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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

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                    Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                    Last Updated on December 3, 2019

                    7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

                    7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

                    I often hear people say, “I want to be successful but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved career success yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “what does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

                    It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction. And when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

                    A word of caution. It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. In my opinion, this step-by-step guide is apart of your life philosophy.

                    1. Define Career Success for Yourself

                    Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

                    What does career success mean to you?

                    This is about defining your career success:

                    • Not what you think you ‘should’ do
                    • Not what people may think of you
                    • Not adjusting to friends and family’s judgements
                    • Not taking actions based on societal or community norms

                    “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” – Zen Shin

                    When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define career success that best suits your life situation.

                    There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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                    • Work-life balance
                    • Opportunities for growth and advancement
                    • Feeling valued that my contributions had an impact

                    Now even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

                    • What do you mean by work-life balance?
                    • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
                    • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

                    Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

                    • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work
                    • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company
                    • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

                    Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses:

                    • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
                    • What’s most important for you in the next 12 months?
                    • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

                    Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

                    Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

                    What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

                    2. Know Your Values

                    Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

                    There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. This one designed by Carnegie Mellon University can help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

                    Once you have your top 5 values keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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                    • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
                    • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
                    • Put the words on your fridge
                    • Add the words on your vision board

                    Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

                    3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

                    When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework – Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

                    How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

                    Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals:[2]

                    • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
                    • If no hurdles are in the way, what would you like to achieve?
                    • If you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
                    • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
                    • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
                    • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you most love?

                    Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

                    • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
                    • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals? Maybe some of your goals can be deleted because they no longer align with your values.
                    • How attainable are your goals? Breakdown your goals into digestible pieces.
                    • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

                    Get very clear and specific about your goals. Think about an archer – a person who shoots with a bow and arrows at a target. This person is laser focused on the target – the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

                    By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

                    4. Determine Your Top Talents

                    What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

                    What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it.[3]

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                    What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

                    What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

                    What do you notice?

                    5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience

                    Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

                    I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me, however, it expanded my identity.

                    Review this list of Feeling Words. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel.

                    Keep these words visible too!

                    Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

                    6. Be Willing to Sit with Discomfort

                    Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint hearted. It takes real work, courage and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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                    Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

                    “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” – Rumi

                    7. Manage Your Own Career

                    Not to be cynical, but no one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career and manage it like your own business – no one will.

                    Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

                    Summing Up

                    For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

                    Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day? Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain work-life balance.

                    Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional:

                    1. Define Career Success for Yourself
                    2. Know Your Values
                    3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Life and Goals
                    4. Determine Your Top Talents
                    5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience
                    6. Be Willing to sit with Discomfort
                    7. Manage Your Own Career

                    “When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.” – Lolly Daskal

                    Good luck and best wishes always!

                    More Tips on Advancing Your Career

                    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

                    Reference

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