Five Whys

The practice of tracing a problem back through multiple layers of cause-and-effect to its ultimate cause—or at least back to the problem which, if repaired, would have a good chance of preventing it happening again. Observation finds that five layers of “Why?” are typically required. Although this is scarcely a new idea (in air accident investigation, for instance), the practice of meticulously tracing the source even of minor or routine errors was a major advance when it was established by Taiichi Ohno at the Toyota Motor Company in Japan after the Second World War, as a standard response to the routine daily glitches of production. Without it, errors just out of sight—more than one step away—settle in and breed.F15

A reasonable development of the Five Whys would be the Five Whats, which would consist of explicitly identifying five reasons for making an important decision where there is the potential for catastrophe if it is wrong. Decisions driven by one iconic principle or argument have a tendency to be catastrophic; a rule which affirms that another four distinct reasons should be researched and thought through would be an application of pull to decision-making.


Related entries:

False Consistency, Reflection.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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