Question Like a Toddler Using 5 Whys
Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts Random Thoughts

Question Like a Toddler – the 5 Whys Approach

I was recently reminded of the power of probing questions.  The source of this reminiscence was actually a toddler.

Spend any amount of time with a child who is two or three, and you might push the “why” button.

You know how it goes – you make a statement, they ask “why?”  You respond, then they ask “why?” again.  You respond again, they ask “why?” again – and on and on.

This continues until you hand the child off to someone else, distract them with a toy, or change the subject.  The last option is risky since there’s a real chance that they’ll continue their inquiry pattern on a new subject.

The Art of Questioning

Somewhere along the way many of us lost these probative skills.  It doesn’t seem, at least in conversation, that we question enough to really dig into things.

Maybe our Google or YouTube behavior is different.  But I find that questions typically fall into two camps – asking to learn and asking to confirm.

The Ask to Confirm camp is looking for validation that their existing belief is correct (and they frequently seem confident that they’re right).

The Ask to Learn camp is looking to understand.  This group wants to learn, but I think as a population, we don’t probe very deep – or deep enough, really.

Digging Deeper

Is it a case of information overload?  Maybe fear of opening Pandora’s box?  If you start digging and asking questions, it may feel like you’re risking becoming like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole and struggling to get out.

In a world of seemingly endless information – everywhere you look – the data can seem overwhelming.  So not digging too deep may feel like a solid defense mechanism.

However, there are bigger risks when you don’t dig:

  • You may never learn that that initial assumption wasn’t true, was only partially true, or the depth of your intuitive genius (if whatever you’re trying to confirm is, in fact, true).
  • Or, you may never get to the real source of an issue or a full understanding of a situation.
  • Or, you may never fully solve an issue or take full advantage of a situation because you don’t really have a complete picture of what that issue truly is.

Whys & Hows

The 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis is something that’s been around for a while and is frequently used in Kanban, Six Sigma, and other organizational practices.  It’s a pretty basic concept (as some of the best tools are) – where you ask at least five layers of Why to truly get to the heart of a situation.

Once you dig and get an understanding, then you’re equipped to start matching up your Whys to some Hows – as in “how” you’re going to resolve the issue in your “why.”

The combination of the Whys and Hows helps you to position yourself or your team to best address whatever you’re trying to work through.

The Whys & Hows of Asset Data

Often when we’re working with new clients, our first efforts are focused on digging into the Whys.  Because if we don’t get to the heart of what they’re really dealing with, our approach (or any approach, really) won’t necessarily resolve issues – or get our clients where they want to go.

We’re proud of our mobilePLUS solution – and know that it can solve many problems surrounding managing assets.  But to get the most out of our solution and others, you need to really understand your Whys.  For example, why are you looking to collect your asset data (what are you going to do with it), why doesn’t your current process work, and so on.


What is your investigative style?  Do you ask to learn, ask to confirm, or dig in with the duration of a toddler?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.