The “5 Whys”​ and Current Events

If you stop asking why too soon, you’ll miss the root cause.

Protesters overtaking and burning the Minneapolis Police’s 3rd Precinct. Photo by Hungryogrephotos
In my industry we have a diagnostic tool called the “5 Whys”. It’s taken from Toyota because software developers like to pretend we’re in manufacturing.

The idea is that many problems have more than a single cause. If you treat the most obvious reason but miss the underlying system that led to the situation in question, everything’s going to break all over again.

A classic example would be a car not starting. Keep asking “why” until you get to the main cause.

Why didn’t the car start? The battery is dead.

Why is the battery dead? The alternator is broken.

Why is the alternator broken? The alternator belt is broken.

Why is the belt broken? It was never replaced after it hit its recommend replacement time.

Why was the belt kept too long? No one was following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.

If you stopped asking why too soon, you would have missed the root cause of the car not starting. Replacing the dead battery is an obvious fix but it would have only worked for a short time until the new battery died. That cycle of dead batteries would keep repeating until you dug into the deeper issue.

To truly keep the car running someone needs to start following the car’s instructions, and there are probably even more reasons – lack of care, not enough time, a culture of “just good enough”, etc – for why that wasn’t happening in the first place.

(Note that we also blamed this on the customer not listening to the manufacturer’s instructions. There’s a industry joke here as well as a deeper principle to learn.)

If you want to understand why there is violence happening right now, I’d encourage you to keep asking why.

Personal responsibility is an easy answer to the first why. Asking why people make those choices is the next step.

We as a country need to fix the root problem: racial injustice. Black lives matter, minority lives matter, and until we actually demonstrate that I don’t know how we can have true peace in this world.

What protesters say is fueling their anger

“This protest is not just about George Floyd, and when people are looking at these protesters — this rebellion that’s going on around the country — I hope they have some empathy because these people are going home. We are going home, black folk are going home, brown folk are going home and drinking dirty water, going to poor schools, not having access to quality care and so this is bubbling over,” said CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers.

Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: