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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

    More by this author

    Christopher Alarcon

    Finance Analyst and Founder of the Financially Well Off Blog & Podcast

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    Last Updated on September 23, 2020

    5 Reasons for Your Facebook Addiction (and How to Break It)

    5 Reasons for Your Facebook Addiction (and How to Break It)

    Facebook is embedded into lives around the world. We use it to connect with friends, share important milestones, and check in with the news. However, what may seem like harmless scrolling can become harmful if it takes up inordinate amounts of time and turns into a Facebook addiction.

    The first step to breaking any bad habit is to understand the symptoms and psychological triggers that made you pick up the habit in the first place. Below you’ll find the common causes, and the good news is that, once you’ve identified them, you can implement specific strategies to get over your Facebook addiction.

    Symptoms of a Facebook Addiction

    Do you find that the first thing you do when you wake up is grab your phone and scroll through Facebook? Is it the last thing you see before falling asleep? You may have a Facebook addiction. Here are some more of the signs and symptoms[1]:

    • You end up spending hours on Facebook, even when you don’t mean to.
    • You use Facebook to escape problems or change your mood.
    • You go to sleep later because you’re glued to your screen.
    • Your relationships are suffering because you spend more time on your phone than you do talking with the people you care about.
    • You automatically pull out your phone when you have free time.

    You can check out this TED Talk by Tristan Harris to understand how Facebook and other social media gain and hold our attention:

    Psychological Reasons for a Facebook Addiction

    A compulsive Facebook addiction doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are often root causes that push you into Facebook, which can ultimately manifest as an addiction once you become dependent on it. Here are some of the common causes.

    Procrastination

    Facebook can cause procrastination, but many times, your tendency to procrastinate can lead you to scrolling through your Facebook feed.

    Facebook capitalizes on your tendency to procrastinate[2] by incorporating a news feed with an infinite scroll. No matter how far down you go, there will always be more memes and status updates to keep you distracted from whatever you should be doing.

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    Thus, it might be helpful to change your perception of Facebook. Instead of looking at it like a place to be social or kill time, frame Facebook as the enemy of your productivity and purpose. Doesn’t sound as tempting now, right?

    Loneliness or Indecision

    Facebook resembles a boring reality TV show that is on full display during every hour of the day. Do you really need to tell everybody what you ate for lunch? I doubt it.

    You don’t share such trivial details to add value to people’s lives. You’re likely doing it because you’re lonely and in need of attention or approval[3].

    Seeking opinions from your friends could be a sign of indecision or low self-confidence. If you get a bad suggestion, then you can conveniently blame somebody else, thus protecting your ego.

    Social Comparisons

    Social comparison is a natural part of being human[4]. We need to know where we stand in order to judge our rank among our peers. And Facebook has made this all too easy.

    When we get into Facebook, our brains are bombarded by hundreds of people to compare ourselves to. We see our cousin’s amazing vacation to Europe, our friend’s adorable baby, our brother’s new puppy, etc. Everything looks better than what we have because, of course, people are only going to post the best parts.

    This extreme form of social comparison with a Facebook addiction can, unfortunately, lead to depression. One study pointed out that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others”[5].

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    People-Pleasing

    Facebook takes advantage of your desire for instant gratification[6]. Your brain receives a dopamine hit every time you see that red notification light up. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that causes you to seek pleasure from things.

    Pleasure sounds nice in theory, but dopamine is responsible for self-destructive behavior if overproduced. Thus, becoming a slave to your notifications can destroy your self-control in a hurry.

    If that wasn’t bad enough, the human desire to be liked and accepted is at play, too. Every time you get a “Like,” your brain decides that means somebody likes you. Keep this up and you’ll turn into an addict desperate for another “hit.”

    Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

    Facebook wrecks your focus by preying on your fear of missing out. You check your Facebook feed during a date because you don’t want to miss any interesting updates. You check your messages while you drive because a friend might have something exciting to share.

    One study found that “a high level of fear of missing out and high narcissism are predictors of Facebook intrusion, while a low level of fear of missing out and high narcissism are related to satisfaction with life”[7].

    Therefore, while you may feel temporarily glad that you didn’t miss something, research shows that FOMO will actually reduce your overall life satisfaction.

    How to Break a Facebook Addiction

    Now that you know some of the causes of a Facebook addiction, you may be ready to break it. If so, follow these 5 steps to get over your addiction and improve your mental health.

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    1. Admit the Addiction

    You can’t fix a problem if you deny it exists. Don’t beat yourself up, but do try and be honest enough to admit you’re a Facebook addict. If it makes you feel any better, I’m a recovering addict myself. There is no reason to be ashamed.

    Telling a trusted friend might help you stay accountable, especially if they share your goal.

    2. Be Mindful of Triggers

    In order to discover the triggers that lead you to use Facebook, ask yourself the following questions. It may be helpful to write them down at a journal.

    • What did I do? (scrolling, sharing, notification checking, etc.)
    • When did I do it? (down-time at work, as soon as you woke up, right before bed, on a date, etc.)
    • What happened right before? (a stressful event, boredom, etc.)
    • How did this make me feel? (stressed, anxious, sad, angry, etc.)

    Once you’re aware of what pushes you to use Facebook, you can work on tackling those specific things to get over your Facebook addiction.

    3. Learn to Recognize the Urge

    Every time you feel the urge to update your status or check your feed, recognize that impulse for what it is (a habitual behavior—NOT a conscious decision). This is especially powerful when you complete step 2 because you’ll be able to make a mental note of the specific psychological trigger at play.

    Have a plan for when you feel the desire to use Facebook. For example, if you know you use it when you’re bored, plan to practice a hobby instead. If you use it when you’re stressed, create a relaxation routine instead of jumping on Facebook.

    4. Practice Self-Compassion

    Facebook is an epic time-suck, but that doesn’t mean you should criticize yourself every time you log-on to your feed. Beating yourself up will make you feel bad about yourself, which will ironically cause you to be even more tempted.

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    Self-loathing can only lead to failure. You might end up deciding it’s hopeless because you are “too lazy.”  If you want to break your addiction for good, then you need to be self-compassionate.

    5. Replace the Addiction With a Positive Alternative

    It’s a lot easier to eliminate a bad habit when you decide on a good habit that you would like to replace it with. I applied this idea by choosing to pick up a book every time I was tempted to check my feed.

    The result blew my mind. I read over a hundred pages in the first day! Trust me when I say those “few minutes of down-time” can add up to an obscene amount of waste.

    Having a specific metric to track is important. If you want to stay encouraged, you need to have compelling evidence that your time would be better spent elsewhere.

    For example, download an app to help you determine exactly how much time is spent on Facebook so you know how much of your life you’re losing to it. Then, when you find a healthy alternative, you can feel good about all the time you’re giving to it!

    Final Thoughts

    Facebook addictions aren’t uncommon in today’s technologically dependent world. In the pursuit of human connection, we’ve mistakenly taken our interactions online, thinking it would be an easier alternative. Unfortunately, this is no replacement for genuine, face-to-face interaction in real life.

    If you think you have a problem, there are things you can do to tackle it. Get started today and improve your overall well-being.

    More on How to Use Social Media Less

    Featured photo credit: Tim Bennett via unsplash.com

    Reference

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