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The Power of Why!
The Power of Why!

The Power of Why!

When was the last time you asked, “Why?” Has it been awhile? Reflecting back on some of the more confrontational issues I’ve been involved in, it occurred to me that the one question often not asked is simply, Why?

If you have studied Six Sigma, you’ve heard about asking the 5 Whys. Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System, is said to have liked using the 5 Whys. The intent is to repetitively ask questions until you understand the simple, core reason, underlying an otherwise seeming complex problem.

Consider this example (multiple references all over the web), attributed to Mr. Ohno:

1. Why did the robot stop?
The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

2. Why is the circuit overloaded?
There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

3. Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?
The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

4. Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?
The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

5. Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?
Because there is no filter on the pump.

Eliyahu Goldratt’s latest book, The Choice (ISBN-13: 9780884271895), also uses similar examples.

Given the sheer power of Why, and even when it is asked, digging beyond just the first question and its answer is important. When was the last time you asked your child why they did something…and kept on digging? How about at work?

More often than note, even calamity can be reduced to a simple cause and effect. Here’s a (now) humorous example. Our entire data center crashed. Why? All power to the 70+ servers in the data center failed. Why didn’t the uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) kick in to keep the servers up? Power couldn’t get across the main bus bar (power conduit) to the servers? A nut securing the main power lead to the bus bar came loose, tripping the circuit breakers. Why did this keep the UPS from doing their job? They’re on the opposite side of the main bus bar (and circuit breakers), and were cut off.

How often do you drill down, far enough, to realize the ultimate cause of calamity is due to a humble little nut coming lose somewhere?

True story, by the way.


  1. Mark Bell

    Followed up by reading some of your other stuff. “Why?” is incredibly powerful. I remember years ago when I first started coaching youth ice hockey, I would quiz the team before every game on positional placement. “The puck is here…where are my defensemen?” Someone would provide the correct answer and I would immediately ask “Why?” By the end of the season they knew what they were, and they understood why. The team went from losing the first 7 games of the 18 game season to presenting me with the championship trophy in the end.

    Good stuff!


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