Imagine you work in a hardware store. You notice a customer puzzling over the vast array of electric drills.
She turns to you and says, I need a drill, but I don’t know which one to pick.
You ask “So, why do you want a drill?
“To make a hole.” she replies, somewhat exasperated. “Isn’t that obvious?”
“Sure,” you might say, “But why do you want to drill a hole? It might help us decide which drill you need!”
"Oh, okay," and she goes on to describe the need to thread cable from one room, to another.
From there, we might want to know more about the walls, about the type and thickness of the cable, and perhaps about what the cable is for. But what if we keep asking why? What if the next question was something like this?
“Why do you want to pull the cable from one room to the other?”
Our customer then explains she wants to connect directly to the internet router in the other room. "Our wifi reception is terrible! This seemed the fastest, easiest way to fix that."
At this point, there may be other solutions to the bad wifi problem that don’t require a hole at all, let alone a drill.
Someone who needs a drill, rarely wants a drill, nor do they really want a hole.
It’s the utility of that hole that we’re trying to uncover with the 5 Whys.
I think I might have first heard this story and technique from Seth Godin. It's been profoundly useful, and I evangelise it's simple power at every opportunity.
More about the Five whys
￼Creative Commons Icons all from the Noun Project
- Drill by Andrejs Kirma
- Mouse Hole by Sergey Demushkin
- Cable by Amy Schwartz
- Internet by Vectors Market
- Wifi by Baboon designs
- Not allowed by Adnen Kadri