Here is a problem-solving hack examined in Charles Duhigg’s book called Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.

The idea presented in his book is that even the most complex problems have simple solutions if you ask “why” enough times. 5x to be exact. Asking “why” repeatedly will help you connect the dots and get to the root of a problem.

Suppose you find yourself getting to work late every day. Here’s how Duhigg says “why” helps you get to the solution:

  1. Why do I get to work late every day? Answer: Because I have a hard time getting out of bed.
  2. Why do I have a hard time getting out of bed? Answer: Because I dread going into work.
  3. Why don’t you like going to work? Answer: Because I don’t enjoy the job, and it does not challenge me.
  4. Why do you do this work then? Answer: Because I’ve already spent years studying the things required for this position and I’m far along in my profession even though I wouldn’t say I like it.
  5. Why does the progress matter if you don’t want to be in that industry? Answer: Because I’m afraid of admitting to my family and peers that I made a mistake, and I’m scared of starting over.

As you can see, forcing yourself to ask the “5 Whys” often provokes deeper thought and can lead to the root problem. In this example, you’re late to work because you believe you chose the wrong career. Very deep. Understanding the root problem eases finding, if not determines, the solution.