Joel Spolsky, in case you hadn’t noticed, just writes intelligent insightful stuff. He seems to have been on a blogging break for the past few weeks, and I’ve actually missed him. Now he’s back, and his latest piece has my brain thumping. In it, he speaks about the 5 Whys, originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.

(digression: When I was young, my father drove a Toyota. It must have been 20 years old. The antenna was missing, and the frame was beginning to rust away, but the car just kept going. When I went to buy a car, I looked at the Ford Focus. In Israel the Focus is actually a very sweet car; we get the European models, totally different than the US models. The Focus drove tight, had lots of power, and was kitted out with all sorts of cool stuff inside. Then I tried the Toyota Corolla. It wasn’t as sexy, it didn’t have all the gear – it was boring, and it was the same price. Then I realized – they must have put the money in to something. If it wasn’t the MP3 radio and kitted out interior, it was probably the things you can’t see – like the engine. I bought the Toyota.)

The idea behind ‘5 whys’ is to keep asking ‘why’ until you get to the root cause of a problem. There’s nothing holy about 5, fell free to add another few whys if it suits you. I decided to tackle a problem with the 5 whys, and at the risk of being overly self-referential, here’s what I came up with:

Problem: I’m not blogging on a regular basis

  • Why? I find myself not possessed with ideas worth communicating.
  • Why? I get involved in routine things, and not things that stretch my brain.
  • Why? I somehow feel like doing really interesting things would be wasting time.
  • Why? I get caught in a hamster mindset, where I have to do things that are immediately demonstrably valuable, but not really long term contributions.
  • Why? I don’t maintain consciousness of the unique contribution my soul can make to the world.

The question I’m holding now is what to do with the realization. Better yet – knowing a low-level cause, and that cause being a matter of ingrained outlook, how do I bring myself into the more healthy mindset that I’d like to? How do I plant, deep down, the realization that the real valuable contributions I have to make to the world are coming from within?