Get to the Root Causes, the 5 Why's?


Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon utilizes questioning techniques to get down to the root causes of problems. When running a Global brand problems occur often and understanding the root cause of issues has allowed Amazon to become a household name.

A scenario in which Bezos incorporates a historic tradition in his innovative style is in asking the “5 Why's” (Abilla, 2009)


To illustrate the process of the “5 Whys,” Bezos was visiting an Amazon fulfillment center and heard that an associate had injured their thumb on a conveyor belt. Bezos immediately went through the 5 Whys process to get to the root cause:

Question 1: Why did the associate damage his thumb?

Answer: Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.

Question 2: Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?

Answer: Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.

Question 3: Why was his bag on the conveyor and why was he chasing it?

Answer: Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned on by surprise.

Question 4: Why was his bag on the conveyor?

Answer: Because he used the conveyor as a table for his bag.

Question 5: Why did he use the conveyor as a table for his bag?

Answer: Because there wasn't any place near his workstation to put a bag or other personal items.

Getting to this root cause of having a place for the employee to store their bag, the Amazon team quickly realized that they needed to have portable tables in which they were able to place their belongings and keep them away from the workplace area.

How does the “5 Why’s” approach help in assessing a issues to Root Causes?

The purpose to the 5 Why's questions program is to get to the root cause of why you may be winning or losing. Companies may ask “why?” or “what if?” and stop there, but a true inquisitor asks why and follows up on that to makes sure that there is truly actionable intelligence.

When a a deal is lost and inquiry is made into why the deal was lost a company needs to focuses on the strategies of the 5 Why's, it is getting down into:

Question 1: Why was vendor x selected?

Answer: We liked their product better than the competitor’s product.

Question 2: Why did you like vendor x’s product better?

Answer: It was easier to use.

Question 3: Why was vendor x’s product easier to use?

Answer: It took less time to accomplish our tasks.

Question 4: Why did it take less time to accomplish your tasks?

Answer: Its interface was less clunky.

Question 5: Why was its interface better?

Answer: It required fewer clicks to accomplish the tasks we need to do over and over throughout the day, which would save us a lot of time and money.

The 5 Why's questioning brings to the surface those deeply rooted reasons that humans are so irrational about. When getting to the 5th level of a reason you are getting into the root causes of human reasoning and the purpose for a selection.

If you don’t believe me, look into the inquisitive mind of a child talking to their parent and ask yourself, “How many times did my child just ask me why after I gave them a reason?” The 5 Why's is the inquisitive mind’s way of drawing out the true purpose. And developing a Win Loss Analysis Program also will incorporate this questioning technique to find out the specific, actionable reasons why you are winning or losing!

Works Cited

Abilla, P. (2009). Jeff Bezos and Root Causes.

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