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Solve Any Problem By Asking 'Why' Five Times
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Solve Any Problem By Asking 'Why' Five Times

Japanese industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno, who is considered to be the father of the famous Toyota Production System, revolutionized manufacturing across the globe by introducing a new system in the company. The Toyota system, which is known as Lean Manufacturing in West, was the brainchild of Ohno which drove Toyota to a major industrial powerhouse from the ashes of World War II. This system, more than any other aspect of the company, is responsible for having made Toyota the company it is today.



One of the major principles of the system was "Genchi Genbutsu," which means go to the source of a problem to find the facts to make correct decisions. In life, we come across problems in all sorts of situations, and according to Taiichi Ohno , "having no problems is the biggest problem of all." Ohno saw a problem not as a negative, but, in fact, as an opportunity for 'Kaizen' (continuous improvement). " Whenever one cropped up, he encouraged his staff to explore problems first-hand until the root causes were found. "Observe the production floor without preconceptions," he would advise. "Ask 'why' five times about every matter."

According to Ohno asking "why" five times will eventually lead you to the cause of a problem and thus you can learn to avoid repeating them in future. Ohno gives an example of a welding robot stopping in the middle of its operation to demonstrate the usefulness of his method, finally arriving at the root cause of the problem through persistent inquiry:

"Why did the robot stop?" The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

"Why is the circuit overloaded?" There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

"Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?" The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

"Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?" The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

"Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?" Because there is no filter on the pump.


Thus arriving at the root cause and fixing it, in the case of the example above putting a filter on the pump, will provide a lasting solution as well as improvement in the total efficiency of the process. Today this way of thinking is employed from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. In our daily lives, we can use this system to solve our professional and personal problems efficiently.

Writer Leah Fessler of Quartz gives a more modern scenario: "You just gave a PowerPoint presentation, and it went overtime and your client had a hard stop, so they didn't hear your team's full proposal." Fessler says afterward on your own time, you should review by asking why :

"Why didn't the client hear our full proposal?" Because I ran out of time.

"Why did you run out of time?" Because I was long-winded when presenting my slides.

"Why were you long-winded?" Because I had not practiced presenting my slides the night before.

"Why hadn't you practiced?" Because I was tied up with a friend last night and had other things to get through during the day yesterday.

"Why were you tied up with a friend, and focusing on other projects the day before a client presentation? "


The answer to this fifth question will vary for each of us. For some it may indicate our inability to say no or point towards people who are negatively influencing your life. Whatever the answer, knowing the fundamental, underlying issue that caused the problem is essential to solving it.

Also Read: 15 Japanese Proverbs That Will Teach You Valuable Life Lessons

(Image Credit: Pixabay)

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