Why we need to start asking why.

I am lucky enough to be the proud mum of Ava, the little girl up there in the photo. Anyone who’s had a conversation with her, or really any three-year-old, can tell you that little humans ask a lot of questions about everything.

Toddlers are quite inquisitive little creatures with an unquenchable thirst to understand why things are the way they are.

And they usually don’t stop asking. The first question usually leads to the next question and the next question and the next. You get my point.

In the 1930’s, Sakichi Toyoda developed a whole scientific approach around why to understand the nature of a problem and assist in the evolution of Toyota’s manufacturing methodologies. Toyoda’s approach involves asking five whys to get to the underlying cause. It’s a practice Toyota still uses and has been widely adopted across many other industries.

Why five whys?

Because most issues are complex with multiple layers.


In an increasingly digitised, globalised, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week world, issues are becoming more and more complex. Asking why multiple times can provide clarity on the root cause. Although clarity alone doesn’t always offer clear cut solutions – like in the case of obesity – it can help to paint the whole picture.

Once we can see the many facets of an issue we can unpack each part and work through them, systematically, until we find a solution.

The practice is effective because it’s simple.

The key to using this technique is to ask the right question. Once you have the right question, you dig – five times to be exact – until you have a picture of the whole issue.

Here’s an example:

5 whys

Image, Toyota Global

Adopting this practice in communications is particularly useful. The communications and media landscape is changing fast, so stopping regularly and making sure to review current practices can help us from becoming complacent with our approach. It can help inform strategy and, more importantly, bring clarity to an issue.

It’s healthy to question things. It’s healthy to challenge the status quo or an issue by asking ‘why’ not once, not twice, but five times.

It’s one of the many things I’m grateful to Ava for teaching me. She doesn’t stop asking why until she’s satisfied that she’s reached the right answer. So take a leaf out of a three-year-old’s book, and start asking.

Talk to us to start asking why.