The Most Important Question to Ask When Solving Problems

Lately, the news has reported on a number of problems facing us. It may be insurance policies being cancelled. It might be the debt ceiling. It could be any of the issues currently in the news or the papers (remember them?).

The reports generally include a discussion of the problem and its impact. Rarely do they include any real analysis of the cause of the problem.

Even those reports that do ascribe a cause to a problem generally do so with little or no real analysis, producing an overly simple answer that matches the ideology of those doing the reporting. These simple answers may divert us from really understanding the problem.

Finding the root cause of any issue is essential to understanding the situation and trying to resolve it. If we know the cause we can deal with the real problem, not just the symptoms it presents.

When examining a problem, we should start by asking the most important question that will help us find the real cause of the situation. The question we should ask is:


If we ask why something happened, the answer can begin to tell us what caused the symptom we observed. We may need to gather data to help establish the answer and be sure we really understand what is happening. Once we get the answer, we move on to ask the next question:

Why did that happen?”

Every time we answer “why”, we move closer to the root cause of the problem. The rule of thumb we use is to ask “why” 5 times. By the time we have dug down that far, we are closer to finding the root cause of the problem. Now, we can better understand what is happening and have a chance to make a difference by resolving the issue.

Understanding the cause of a problem gives us the chance to really solve it. We can be effective when dealing with root causes, dealing with the symptoms never is.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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1 Response to The Most Important Question to Ask When Solving Problems

  1. Pingback: The Most Important Step In Problem Solving | calmcblog

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