A guest blog post by my friend and former colleague Joe Howard. Over the years, Joe has tried to help me understand the basics of physics, the true meaning of infinity and the importance of persistently asking tough questions like why.
is valued more highly than thinking, and assumptions dominate over facts, the
generation of ineffective solutions to ill-defined problems is inevitable!
I learned a great technique from the area of
Health and Safety (H&S) for identifying
"the real problems".
This proved to be useful in many other business areas.
to the technique is to ask "Why"
a minimum of three times once the issue is thought to have has been identified.
of H&S is "zero accidents". When accidents do occur, the aim is
to ensure they are not repeated. Although the following real example is from H&S, an equivalent
starting point might be "Our new product is not selling".
Scenario: A factory employee had slipped on the factory
floor and injured both his knee and head.
approach would lead to the problem being identified as, "The floor was
slippery." and to solutions like:
- instruct all employees to watch where they are placing their
- issue footwear with non-slip soles
- install a non-slip floor
Let us use the new process:
(did he slip)?:
There was water on the floor.
"Action" approach solutions would be:
- an instruction for all spills to be cleaned up immediately
- provision of mops and buckets
- barriers made available to prevent access while cleaning and
the floor is drying
These "solutions "require 100% compliance for the zero
accidents goal to be achieved-not a good bet with our human frailties (think
The bucket for carrying the water was full and it
spilled over the side.
Instant action leads
Back to the process:
- Provide bigger buckets
- Provide buckets with lids etc
Because the water needed for the process is not
available in the work area and has to be carried there.
Because the machinery was moved to increase efficiency.
Now we see the real problem:
"The source of water required for the factory process is not located where the water is needed."
the 8 "action" solutions listed
above addressed this problem! A solution was to pipe the water supply in to the
machine so that no container was required and spills were contained within the
system. This met the objective of no possibility of repetition.
Applying the Why, Why, Why to Marketing
a sales/marketing meeting we were discussing the alternative issue mentioned above; "Our
new product is not selling". "Action" solutions to this ill-defined problem immediately led to
solutions like; "increase advertising", "lower prices",
" "improve product performance" etc.
Using the process and
answering questions with facts, not
opinions, identified the real problem-which
was far removed from those identified in the "heat" of the moment.
Time was spent researching the answers to questions, which was stressful for the
action-oriented team members!
solution to the H&S issue described above is effective, but I hope you realized that the process has
been ended too soon!
Because the full implications of the equipment move
were not considered.
There is no clear comprehensive documented process for
The solution is to implement a comprehensive
management-of-change procedure and train
key employees to use it. The procedure covers all equipment changes, including
Now the solution is much deeper, more comprehensive and
strategic . It solves not only the specific problem, but the generic one.
Notice how constant awareness of the overarching clear goal helps guide us to
the real generic problem.
Try the process. Do so diligently, if possible as part of a
team, and you will find that it really
About Joe Howard
A scientist by training, I spent
my career initially as a university professor then as an executive in both
large and smaller companies (based in Europe and the USA). While I held a wide
variety of roles, their unifying themes were innovation and new business
development. Although I'm not a professional marketer, I have worked extremely
closely with, and been fascinated by marketing for over 25 years. I'm
enthralled by the applications of modern research in behavioral psychology to
leading edge marketing. Since leaving the corporate world I have taken up
consulting and training, mainly in the areas of technology, research and
innovation. You can reach Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Labels: asking why?, critical thinking, Guest Blogs, Guest Moments, Joe Howard, Marketing Moments, why?