5 Why’s of Problem Solving

Learning Life Skills: The 5 Why’s of Problem Solving

If you have a child that has taken a class with me you will have noticed on their progress report a section called “scientist or life skills”. I added this section to all of my progress reports as a way for you to see how your child is gaining the tools for successful enterprise, and to remind me to constantly teach these values and mindsets in my classes.

They are born out of a meeting I had with my Uncle Jonathan. Uncle Jon is a heavy hitter when it comes to science. He is among the best when it comes to engineering with lasers and worked on a ton of advanced aerospace defense creation with Boeing with many patents in the field. I sat down with him one morning with a big question: what skills would be most valuable to teach to young learners.

Out poured my life skills list…

  • Growth mindset
  • Working on teams
  • Being able to articulate and draw ideas
  • Openness to sharing knowledge and teaching others
  • Seeking out alternative solutions

Growth mindset, working on teams, being able to articulate and draw ideas, openness to sharing knowledge and teaching others, seeking out alternative solutions, are the 5 why’s of problem-solving. Many of these are big keywords nowadays, growth mindset has books written all about it, from Carol Dweck’s Mindset to Angela Duckworth’s Grit we have learned about the power of positive thinking and using failure as a teacher. Working on teams, openness to teaching others and sharing knowledge are all age-old ideas. Ideas that still have to be taught, but they are not new to our framework. The 5 why’s of problem-solving, however, might catch you off guard.

5 whys of problem solving

Where did the 5 why’s of problem-solving come from?

And why are they important enough for my Uncle Jon to talk specifically about? The 5 why’s of problem-solving hail from the Japanese company Toyota and were developed by Sakichi Toyoda. He believed that it was far better to determine the root cause of a problem than just fix the surface issues. 

The wonderful thing about the 5 why’s of problem-solving is that it isn’t about blame, it is just about what is happening and how we, as a team, can fix it. In groups, addressing the 5 why’s can lead to a brainstorming session that allows the team to assign tasks to each individual that will contribute to the whole. Basically, the 5 why’s of problem-solving is a method that only wants facts. It wants to know what is going on, discover how deeply you need to drill down to fix that issue, and then assign tasks to get it done.

The 5 why’s of problem-solving is our natural state when we are young. Have a conversation with any toddler and you will be stuck in a loop of why’s that can often only end in “we don’t know that” or “therein is where I believe God lies”. Young kids have a burning desire to know how everything works, why it works, why the system is set up in a particular way. As adults we burn it out of them, getting exhausted of 10 minutes of conversation just to get a jacket on. And while that helps out own sanity, as educators it is our job to bring back the curiosity and desire to drill down as deeply as possible.

Because I want to make it a core tenant of my classes I have included it in my life and scientist skills. Major corporations are having to retrain their engineers to think like this, but what would become of our scientific endeavors if we fostered that curiosity and drive for answers from a younger age? And what does it cost us other than a few minutes of problem-solving in class? To me, the benefits far outweigh the 10 minutes it might take to walk a child through the process and discover what they think is happening, and how they think they can fix it.