Last Updated on 14 November 2019

Remember as a child – or perhaps you have a child at home – when asking one question, it often leads to a string of additional questions? How come? Why? Why is that?

This is simply a way of of trying to understand the root answer, the root cause. As adults, this string of questioning can be very valuable in helping identify the root cause of problems at work and home.

This month, I offer a simple method that will help you get to the root of a problem instead of simply treating symptoms.

Ask Why? And Why? Again

Finding the Root Cause

Trying to fix symptoms instead of addressing the core problem can be dangerous. You spend time, money, and resources making the pain go away. However, while things may feel better, behind this false sense of security still lurks the original problem. What’s worse, it may have become bigger and more complex.

An effective way to dig down to the root cause of a problem is to ask a series of “why?” questions. Ask “why?” or “why may this be occurring?” about the challenge, and then again for each of your responses. These rounds of questioning dig under the surface to reveal root issues.

Here, let me give you an example regarding problems I’m having with my premium, fresh-squeezed Lemonade Stand.

Main Issue: Sales are down at my lemonade stand.

First, I will ask “why?” five times about my main issue.

Why are sales down? 1: There is poor visibility.
Why are sales down? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.
Why are sales down? 3: Competitors are selling lemonade for a cheaper price.
Why are sales down? 4: My stand is in a bad location.
Why are sales down? 5: Fresh lemonade is no longer trendy.
Why are sales down? …

So here you can see I’ve identified five potential main issues. (You should keep going until you’re comfortable you’ve sought all the potential issues).

From here, we want to take each to a deeper level. I recommend at least three to five rounds for each of the five problems already identified.

(Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but it’s better to figure it out here, on paper, before spending money. And it is MUCH cheaper than spending money solving the wrong problem).

So, I’ll start working out the first two as an example. This time, I ask why about each previous response.

Why? 1: There is poor visibility.

Why is there poor visibility?
I don’t have a proper sign.

Why don’t I have a proper sign?
I spent the money on the stand not the sign.

Why did I spend the money on the stand?
I don’t really know about advertising.

Root Issue: I lack strong advertising skills, I need to take a class or get some outside help.

Why? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.

Why don’t people want premium lemonade?
It is perceived as too expensive.

Why is it perceived as too expensive?
People are fine to get it cheaper elsewhere.

Why are people fine to get it cheaper?
They don’t recognize the difference between
my premium lemonade and the cheap stuff the competition sells.

Why don’t they recognize the difference?
I haven’t explained my quality message anywhere.

Root Issue: I’m realizing I’m not telling my story well enough.

Now I’ve got a better idea of what is behind some of the problems I am having and know where to focus my energy. If I continue, I may discover additional issues that need to be addressed.

Additional Tips:

  • “Why” is a magic word that will break a problem down into smaller, more workable chunks.
  • Ask “why” at least five times. Or even better, until you hit a wall. The statements at this level will reveal your root issues.
  • To get a fuller picture, instead of just asking “why” only once for sub-issues, ask multiple times. (For example, I could ask ‘Why are people fine to get cheaper elsewhere?‘ a few more times to reveal more than simply ‘they don’t understand lack of quality.’ Perhaps it is about convenience or better selection elsewhere as well.).

Handy Templates:

To help get you started, I’ve created a downloadable template:

I’ve also prepared a completed example:

I recommend you try this approach on a problem you’re facing at home or at work. Let me know how it goes for you!