“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
~ Albert Einstein
If you’re able to order electronics from Japan, wine from France, or if you’ve ever marveled at how supermarkets stock fruits and vegetables from all parts of the world regardless of the season, you have this one person to thank — Malcolm McLean.
Let me tell you why & share an important lesson he taught us.
In the mid-20th century, the shipping industry had a problem: loading and unloading ships was an incredibly time-consuming, labor-intensive and hence expensive process. Things were transported in all shapes and sizes, which meant that each item had to be individually loaded or unloaded from ships.
McLean, owner of a trucking company, experienced the inefficiency firsthand. Frustrated with the delays his trucks faced at the docks, he wanted to solve this issue.
He thought, why not have a single, standardized ‘box’ that could be seamlessly transferred across these modes of transport? The result was the modern shipping container. Which led to a dramatic reduction in shipping costs and a boom in global trade.
Instead of trying to find ways to speed up the manual loading/unloading process (a symptom), McLean tackled the core issue of the inefficiency of goods being loaded & unloaded of non-standardised sizes.
While symptoms are the immediate and often visible manifestations of issues, they are rarely the core of the problem.
To find the root cause of any problem you can use the ‘5 Whys Technique’ — Ask “Why?” five times in succession to drill down into the cause of a problem.
Imagine you notice that you’re frequently feeling overwhelmed and stressed by the end of the week. Here’s how the 5-whys might work —
Why am I feeling overwhelmed by Friday?
Because I have a backlog of household chores and tasks by the end of the week.
Why do I have a backlog of chores and tasks by week’s end?
Because I often postpone several tasks to the weekend.
Why am I postponing these tasks?
Because I feel too tired when I get home from work during weekdays.
Why am I feeling so tired after work?
Because I’m not sleeping well at night.
Why am I not sleeping well at night?
Because I’m drinking coffee late in the evening, which might be affecting my sleep.
There you have it! The root cause isn’t the chores or even the fatigue; it’s that cup of coffee at 8 pm. Addressing this might just change how you feel every Friday evening.
Think about something in your life that’s been bothering you, something that recurs, that never truly seems to go away. Repeatedly ask ‘why’ until you hit the fundamental issue. Sometimes you might need to ask fewer than five times, and sometimes you might need to ask more. Truly understand the problem, no matter how many questions it takes.
This Week’s Image
This Week’s Riddle
The more you take from it, the larger it grows. What could it be, do you suppose?
This Week’s Journaling Prompt
Identify a process or routine in your daily life that feels inefficient or unsatisfying. Start by describing the situation, then apply the ‘5 Whys Technique’ to explore underlying causes. Find a potential solution based on the root cause you’ve uncovered & see if it will solve your problem.
This Week’s Challenge
Choose a habit or activity you want to integrate into your daily routine. It could be reading, exercise, meditation, or anything else. Every day, before you engage in this activity, ask yourself “Why is this important to me?” and write down your response on a piece of paper. As the days progress, see if your ‘why’ deepens or evolves, and let this motivation drive you to consistency in the chosen activity for the entire week.
Riddle answer: A hole