The Importance of Getting to “Why”

Have you ever felt like you just stumbled on some successful strategy by accident—but when you tried to recreate it or reverse engineer it, you couldn’t make it happen again? Conversely, are you plagued by some repeating problem or issue that you don’t know how to fix?

If either—or both— of these is true, read on—we’ve got a simple solution to help you get to the root cause of both your successes and failures.

Full disclosure—we can’t take credit for this. It’s a technique that’s been used by successful companies the world over, and it started in the 1930s with a guy in Japan named Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. We call it the “5 Whys” method.

Why Five Whys?

(Say that five times fast.)

The basic idea behind the “5 whys” is that asking “why” the first time doesn’t usually lead us to the truth. We have to keep drilling down with additional “whys” to find the root cause of any problem—or by the same token, any success. It takes an average of five, but it can be more or fewer, depending on how complex the problem (or your own level of honesty).

Here’s an example:

Problem: Suppose you notice that you’re getting a lot of incoming calls from your marketing, but less than 1 percent of those callers actually make it into your office for their initial consultation.  Let’s start asking…

  1. Why are so few people coming in? Because we aren’t following up with reminders.
  2. Why aren’t we following up? Because our staff isn’t reaching them by phone when they try to call back.
  3. Why don’t they reach them? Because they’re calling at the wrong time of day, or perhaps not making enough attempts.
  4. Why aren’t we making enough attempts to make repeat contacts and confirm appointments? Because we don’t have enough staff and/or the office isn’t open 24/7.

In this case, it only took 4 “whys” to get to the root cause: You’re not reaching enough people after they call in for their first appointment because there aren’t enough people OR open hours in a day to reach busy people by phone these days. (Not to mention a lot of people let unknown callers go to voicemail.)

Now you can find a solution. You can:

  • Hire more staff;
  • Man the phones in the evenings when people are more likely to answer; OR
  • Set up an automated reminder service via text messaging, making it easier for prospects to confirm.

See how it works? Now try it for yourself. What’s the biggest headache your firm is facing right now? Start drilling down with “whys” until you discover the real cause—then you’ll be able to create a solution that actually turns things around. And by the way—this method works with re-creating successes, too. When you learn why something worked, you can figure out how to make it work again!


To Your Continued Success,


Luis Scott