Ask "Why?" 5 Times

Ask "Why?" 5 Times

Channel your inner 5-year-old


3 min read

Digging deep into the reasoning behind business outcomes and strategic decisions has always illuminated paths to better understanding and more informed actions.

The "5 Whys" technique reliably and quickly brings clarity to any situation. Try it and learn that your initial answers often only scratch the surface; the real insights lie beneath.

Here's an example:

Reflecting on the past

Story: Site traffic is up, but revenue is down. What gives?

The team's first reaction: The site may be broken.

๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™‚๏ธI began my investigation with a simple question: "Why did revenue drop?" The first layer revealed that the site's blended conversion rate was lower than average. Digging further, I found the cause to be a dip in performance from specific channels like email and paid search, attributable to a suspension in our paid social campaign. This deeper understanding provided a clear direction for corrective action.

  • Revenue is down despite increased traffic. Why?

    • Blended conversion rate is lower than average. Why?

      • Traffic from Paid social was normal, but email and paid search performed terribly. Why?

        • There are many fewer email leads than normal and they seem lower quality. Why?

          • Recently, our paid social ad account was suspended for 2 days. This led to fewer leads entering the funnel (fewer email sign ups, fewer people searching our brand)

if you stop too early, you come up with the wrong conclusion!

  • The website is broken โŒ

  • No, email and paid search are broken โŒ

  • No, the email sign up form is broken โŒ

  • Oh, this is all just trickling down from no ads running from two days โœ…

What should we do about it? Wait. It will fix itself now that ads are running again

Planning for the future

Should we invest in influencer marketing right now? You can apply the same process to dig in deep, getting to those juicy insights

  • We should start influencer marketing next quarter. Why?

  • We need to grow revenue by $100k/mo. Why will influencer marking do that?

    • Team member has previous experience with it. Is it more likely to make significant progress to $100k than other efforts?

      • Maybe not, but it's a good opportunity.

You're the CEO now. Should we do it? Probably not, right?

Ok, you can't just ask, "Why"

It's more of a pressure test to ease out uncertainty and assumptions.

  • Why do we think that's true?

  • Why will this work?

  • Why did this change?

If you keep asking probing questions, you eventually get to answers that are straightforward and non-debatable.

Your homework

Apply the "5 Whys" technique at least once this week.

By systematically questioning and uncovering assumptions, you ensure that the foundations of decisions are not just well understood, but also plausible to be accurate.

This practice will sharpen your analytical skills and strengthen your strategic approach to business.