“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

In the course of our work life, we learn things. We start a new job and we learn how to do it. We frequently get told “what” to do without learning the “why.” After a while, the familiarity of doing the “what” becomes comfortable. We forget about searching for the “why.”

That’s why the process of asking “why” five times is such an effective lean technique. It suggests that we step back and examine the things we know to be true and see if the “why” is the same as it once was.

I heard a story: Newspapers in England were made with odd-sized, large paper. A new publisher assumed the paper size was used because it was cheaper.

Upon examination, he learned the bigger paper was more expensive. He couldn’t get anybody to tell him why they used the more expensive paper. He researched it.

It turns out that many years earlier, the government had taxed newspapers on the number of pages they printed. Thus, it made sense to use larger pages to print papers with fewer pages. It saved on taxes.

Eventually, the tax law changed. But the newspapers went on using the more expensive paper. It was an ingrained habit. It cost a good deal more. No one bothered to ask “why.”

While I hope we don’t have those kinds of things in abundance, I wonder if there aren’t a few.

Take a look around. Examine what we do. Ask yourself: “If we were starting over today, would we do it that way?”

Ask yourself: “Do I know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what?’”

It may lead you to a fresh outlook.