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How Relentlessly Asking Why Gets You to The Truth

Posted on Friday, October 9, 2015 at 09:39PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

When I owned a production facility, my favorite report – the one on which I most depended, to give me an accurate view of the business – was called the “Whywhywhy” report. I named it that because Jim Collins said, in Good to Great, that asking why and then why again and then why again is a great tactic for gaining true understanding. Since Good to Great, I have heard this advice several times, from other business gurus (the great truths run like a thread through many books).   

Asking why and then why and then why, is like peeling the layers of an onion. You can’t get down to the third layer without going through the first two.  

There is a concept called “the adjacent possible.” It means that we cannot access some possible futures without first going through a specific precursor. Imagine a room with 6 doors. Each door leads to another room. Each adjacent room, one behind each of the 6 doors, represents a possible future. And once we choose a door and go into the next room there are six more doors, leading to 6 more rooms. Each set of doors represents the adjacent possible for that room. But we cannot access the rooms behind the doors in rooms that are not adjacent to the room we are in.

This is why the Whywhywhy technique works. The root cause of an issue may be 3 adjacent possible rooms away. Each “why” takes us through a door, eventually, leading to the crux of the issue.