Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, once said that “simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” When it comes to running our businesses, it can become very easy for things to get complicated. There’s people to manage, hundreds of ideas, changing conditions, and so on. Therefore, the assumption sometimes becomes that these complicated problems require complicated solutions. However, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, it’s often the small little changes and decisions that end up adding up to have big impacts.
One of my favorite tools to help take complex problems and break them down into small, manageable chunks is the Why?Why? Method which was made popular by business professors Vyakarnham and Leppard in 1999. The Why?Why? Method is extremely easy; simply take a problem and continue to ask why until you find small little changes that you can make. Here’s three possible scenarios to use this tool in your business:
Note: I’ll be using some real life examples of businesses which I’m currently advising. For the sake of keeping this article short, I’ll simplify their issues.
1) When There Is a Problem Example: One of the businesses I help advise, a dentist office, realized that the number of new patients coming in had significantly decreased. Their initial response was to launch a huge new marketing campaign but we instead took some time to look at the details. Problem: Number of New Patients Decreased For the sake of simplicity, I’ve only shown two levels of “Why?” but keep in mind that you can keep going until you find a level where you think the steps are simple enough for your team to easily execute.
Notice how the solutions are all easy to execute and can be easily measured. Instead of the manager being stressed with the broad task of increasing the number of new patients, the manager now has a list of actionable plans. Plus, by mapping it out in this way, the manager was able to share the maps with the rest of the office. So now, everyone knew how their individual tasks were part of a much bigger picture. The benefits:
Saved them money from launching a brand new ad campaign
Gave them easy action items and a clear understanding of solutions
Helped the employees understand that everyone has a role to play
2) When Things Suddenly Go Well While this method of asking Why until you get to key solutions is great for solving problems, it’s also great for learning when things go well. Another business we’ve been helping is a coffee shop which recently found a sharp increase in the number of people visiting its website and then coming into the coffee shop to study.
Instead of keeping the method to the manager or the staff, we decided to use it as a talking exercise with the new customers. The manager went around for a few days to new faces and asked them why they were here and kept asking why based on their responses. In the end, we realized that a local influencer with 15,000 followers took a photo of herself while doing homework at the shop and talked about how it was the “perfect” study spot. So we kept asking our why’s until we found easy, actionable plans:
Offer a promotion on coffee for people if they give the shop a review on social media
Buy more comfy furniture to encourage people to spend more time
Buy more fun decorations to make the place more “picture-worthy”
Offer a student discount
Increase WiFi speed
3) When You Just Want To Make Things Simple The beauty of the Why?Why? Method is that it’s so simple, it doesn’t need a reason for you to try it! Whenever I get stressed out about the millions of things I need to do or the thousands of things that are happening, one of the best options is grabbing a piece of paper and mapping everything out.
For example, I’ll make a list of all the things I need to do and then I’ll keep asking why. The cool thing is that I often find that some things need to be deleted because they don’t really matter and find action items for the things that do matter.
Summary Running a business is about passion and it should be enjoyable. When things become complicated and frustrating, it might be time to let the inner 9-year old come and start asking “Why? Why? Why? Why? Oh.”