January 30, 2012
Five Whys
Posted by Gordon Smith

One of the things I love about the Crocker Fellows course is that we have faculty from five different departments in the room simultaneously (Business, Engineering, Computer Science, Life Sciences, and, of course, Law). Each of the disciplines represented in the room has its own canonical ideas, and listening to those ideas play out is educational for all of us.

For example, today a faculty member invoked the Five Whys (of Toyota fame) in trying to help one of the teams understand the root cause of a problem. Here is the idea, in a nutshell, as stated by Kenichi Ohmae: "If instead of accepting the first answer, one … persists in asking 'Why?' four or five times in succession, one will certainly get to the guts of the issue, where fundamental bottlenecks and problems lie."

A couple of years back, Eric Ries wrote a nice blog post on "The Five Whys for Start-Ups" at HBR, and Jeff Lipshaw noticed the affinity of the Five Whys with the Socratic method. Want a lean startup? Hire a law professor as a manager!

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