Adam's Maker Faire talk about "Why we make" called to mind an critical distinction between "how" and "why". Asking and understanding "how" something works is necessary for building and problem solving, but considering the "why" of a problem is arguably more important. It reminded me of a trip I took in high school to Toyota's NUMMI auto manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. During the tour of the facility, I learned about the famed Toyota Production System, guidelines and philosophies that guided the company's efficient production facilities. Among the tenets was the "five whys" technique for problem solving, developed by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda. Its premise isn't complicated: you can realize the underlying problem (and solution) to any process by following a chain of causality until you reach the root cause level, which is typically achieved by asking "why" five times. Workers at Toyota's plants applied the five whys system to causal diagrams to determine the course of action for any problem they encountered in the production line.
More recently, the five whys method has been adapted to apply to startup culture as resource allocation tool. In a guest post for Fast Company, entrepreneur Eric Ries explains why the system is a good organizational technique:
The Five Whys ties the rate of progress to learning, not just execution. Startup teams should go through the Five Whys whenever they encounter any kind of failure, including technical faults, failures to achieve business results, or unexpected changes in customer behavior.