Albert Einstein was once reportedly asked, “If you had one hour to save the planet, how would you spend that hour?” His reply: “I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.”
When faced with looming deadlines or pressure from a client, it’s tempting to rush headlong into solution mode without first gaining a comprehensive understanding of the nature, scope and context of the problem.
This may be effective in the short-term for putting out fires, but in the long run, you risk wasting time and resources by paying inadequate attention to clarifying the root cause.
Instead, be analytical and open-minded and consider different perspectives, since the actual problem may have multiple dimensions that aren’t readily apparent.
Such an approach was formalized at Toyota Industries in the 1950s by its founder, Sakichi Toyoda, who invented the “5 Whys” technique, which later was also incorporated into Six Sigma (a methodology for process improvement).
As the name implies, this technique involves asking “Why?” five times in order to expose the essence of the problem, challenge faulty assumptions and avoid jumping to conclusions.
Whichever strategy you choose, clarifying the problem increases the odds that your solution will be on the right track.