A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon watching a friend’s four year old daughter. Throughout the afternoon, she was asking me some questions, such as “Why are the leaves falling off the tree?” No matter what I would answer, she would always reply “Why?” I would explain why as best I could, and again she would reply “Why?” After we went through a few rounds of that, she finally got an answer that either made sense to her or worked for her. The next week I was working on a programming project and got stuck. Unable to find the solution, I put the same “Why? Why? Why? Why?” trick to use on myself.
I started asking myself “Why isn’t this working?” When I had a general answer I again asked “Why?” I kept repeating the process a few times and I eventually found the problem and a solution.
I’ve used this technique recently as well when I was cooking a batch of chili. I got done with the chili and tasked it and thought it was a bit bland considering all the flavorful vegetables I had added in. I went through a few short rounds of “Why?” and quickly realized I never added any salt to help pull the flavors together. Once I added some salt it was a great batch of chili.
Next time you’re stuck on a problem, act like a four year old and keep asking “Why?” It might take a few rounds and might even seam silly, but it works, and that is all that matters.