The 5 Whys: A Simple Exercise to Get to the Root of Problems—& Solve Them


“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” – Albert Einstein

Problems are simply systems of cause and effect that didn’t give us the results we wanted. To find real solutions we have to first understand the system that caused the problem. Only when we understand the system can we hope to “determine the proper question” and solve the problem.

I want to teach you a technique created by the founder of Toyota to quickly and efficiently find the root cause of problems and better understand the systems that caused them.

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The 5 Whys in Real Estate: An Example

Why can’t I find good tenants for my property?

I only get one applicant to choose from.

Why do I only get one applicant?

Tenants look for value (price vs. property), so I must be giving lower value than the competition.

Why do other properties have more value?

Some offer free utilities, lower prices, and let tenants have pets.

Why am I not offering more?

I’m maximizing profit and don’t want to give up money if I don’t have to.

Why do I think they should pay more for my property?

Because I want more.

This is something that comes up a lot in real estate. We want to maximize our return on investment. Everyone does. Unfortunately, your competition determines your value. If what you’re giving is of low value, you can expect what you get in return to be the same. 

Related: The Exercise That Drove Me to Reevaluate My Cubicle Life, Purchase a Triplex & Start 2 Businesses

The Five Whys in Life: An Example

Why am I stressed at home?

When I come home from work, I’m exhausted.

Why am I exhausted?

I spend my day going back and forth between tasks and get little done.

Why am I not more focused?

There are too many interruptions while I’m working.

Why am I always getting interrupted?

I stop what I’m doing and let people interrupt me. I don’t say no.

Why do I let them interrupt me?

I don’t want to be rude. 

Related: 3 Clever Life Hacks to Help Reclaim Valuable Free Time

I learned this lesson about six months ago. I would come home stressed from work, yet I didn’t really accomplish anything while I was there. Asking the five why’s made me realize that it was the uncomfortable feeling of turning people away that was the root cause of my stress, not the work or the job. I immediately started working from home. Problem solved.

How to Implement the 5 Whys

When a problem arises, stop what you’re doing and ask “why” five times. If you can come to a solution or at the very least identify the root problem(s), you’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort down the road. 

What 5 “whys” would you ask yourself–and does that help solve your issue?

Give the exercise a try and let me know what you think with a comment.

About Author

Brett Lee

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.


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