How to Identify the Root of a Problem in Under 5 Minutes

by RJ

in Psychology

Financial planning isn’t just about spending less than you earn and contributing the max in your 401K. If that was all there is, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Your financial problems would be solved, and my writing would serve no purpose.

Lucky for me, this isn’t the case. There is a lot more to financial planning than just doing what the numbers and statistics tell you to do next. One of them most overlooked topics to financial planning, is problem solving. More specifically, finding the causes of your problems and deciding on a next action to take.

The purpose of this post is to introduce you, a very simple problem solving technique known as the  5 Whys.

The idea behind the Five Whys  is to state a problem and ask yourself five times why you have this problem, always building off the last why. The goal is identify the root cause, instead of touching just the surface.

Example of the Five Whys

It’s best to see a few examples of the Five Whys in action.

Example # 1:

  • State the Problem – I continue to build credit card debt
    • Why? – Every month, I spend more than I earn (first why)
    • Why? – I don’t keep track of monthly income and expenses (second why)
    • Why? – I haven’t worked on developing the habit (third why)
    • Why? – I haven’t made keeping track of money a priority (fourth why)
    • Why? – I don’t have any financial goals (fifth why)
  • Solution – Schedule one hour to set up an account with Mint to track my finances and set three financial goals.

Example # 2:

  • State the Problem – I hate my job
    • Why? – I don’t enjoy the work (first why)
    • Why? – I don’t get to choose what I work on (second why)
    • Why? – I haven’t gotten a promotion (third why)
    • Why? – I haven’t created enough value for my employer (fourth why)
    • Why? – I don’t have the skill sets that people above me have (fifth why)
  • Solution – Interview people whose who work in my ideal job and ask what skills got them there.

Conclusion – Improving Problem Solving Skills

Yes, the 5 Whys approach is so simple that you might overlook it. However, the beauty behind its simplicity, is that it works on almost any problem.

Try it for yourself. Identify a problem and ask yourself why five times.

If you feel daring enough, share your results in the comments.


Photo by: Mad LOL Scientist

Related Posts on Gen Y Wealth


PatrickNo Gravatar October 6, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Nice topic, I would have to say for me it was finding out a solution to hitting snooze in the morning. I spent the better part of two years hitting snooze at least twice every morning, constantly feeling tired and then being in a rush to get out the door on time.

My 5 why’s
State the Problem: I hit snooze on my alarm each morning
- Why? I was tired and wanted to get more sleep.
- Why? I dreaded going to bed each night and thus stayed up too late.
- Why? When I would lay in bed I would start thinking and then couldn’t fall asleep.
- Why? I had trouble setting priorities on my finances and my transition from the military to civilian life.
- Why? I had spent my entire adult life in the Army, it was everything to me and being forced out early and living the rest of my life as a disable veteran is not exactly what I had planned.

My solution: I set my alarm at night now, literally. I have changed my approach to sleep, I set aside time each night to think about my day and prepare myself for the next day. I go to sleep now with all my stresses and worries already addressed and thus fall to sleep almost immediately. I don’t hit snooze at all anymore, in fact most days I wake up on my own before my alarm and have coffee started before my wife’s alarm goes off.

RJNo Gravatar October 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Patrick. That’s great.

What worked for me was putting my alarm clock across the room and tracking how many days a week I would hit the snooze.

Congrats on your improvement.

Everyday TipsNo Gravatar October 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm

This is a great post. Here is my problem:
I don’t exercise everyday like I want to.
Why 1: I am tired or sick
Why 2: I have too many errands to run
Why 3: I don’t want to have to shower twice in a day, and I am terrible at exercising first thing in the morning
Why 4: If I exercise too late at night, I can’t sleep
Why 5: I don’t have a why 5 I can think of. Darn it!

Solution: I need to try and get up and do it anyway. I need to research ways to make it easier on my body to exercise in the morning. Then I will be all done and ready to go for the day when it is time to take the kids to school. Plus, I eat better when I start the day exercising. I will try and go to bed earlier so that I am not so tired in the morning and am more likely to feel better after exercising.

PatrickNo Gravatar October 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Well I can relate to exercising in the morning, it was mandatory in the military. I would refer you to my post about setting the alarm at night. If you are concerned about the the thirty minutes or so that you will need to get up earlier just go to bed by an equal amount that previous evening.

Then instead of making a list of 6 Why not’s you can create a list of 5 Why yes’s.

Why 1: I will feel better after I exercise.
Why 2: I will eat better and be healthier in the long run.
Why 3: As my fitness improves other hobbies in my life will be more productive.
Why 4: I will set a good example for my children, which as a parent is one of our goals.
Why 5: I will get to make a new list!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: