Innovation and Engineering Starts With WHY

Why is the sky blue? Why is it not red? Why are car tyres black? Why don’t cars run on water? I have spent almost all my life asking why. I am lucky to have grown up under the watch of very liberal parents who encouraged me to question things. If there is one word that unlocks doors of creativity, innovation and engineering, it is WHY.

It is so simple a word yet few dare to use it. Perhaps because we all fear the consequences of its answers and where this word may lead. Who knows what may become of the Why? What could we unravel? Why are there 24 hours in a day?

You will be amazed how many would look superbly ignorant if you asked them ‘why’ on the things they do every day and take for granted. Whenever I have asked people why things are the way they are, most didn’t have answers, many for the first time, stood still and begun to think.

If we want to start to innovate, we must start with the WHY. In my Engineering profession, we have the 5WHY tool as a way of getting to the root cause of a problem. Whenever we are faced with a problem, we ask WHY five times until we arrive to the root cause. Why did the Motor fail? Because the bearings seized. Why did the bearings seize? Because they were not lubricated. Why were they not lubricated? Because there is no maintenance schedule for that? There we go, we have almost arrived to the root cause of the motor’s failure.

Even inspiration rotates around WHY. If people are sold a strong WHY, they will do anything. As often said, people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.

Perhaps as a company, you run a marketing campaign that fails. You then get to ask; “Why did it fail?” If it worked elsewhere then you ask; “Why did it work elsewhere but not here?”

Why also helps one to learn things from the gears not just from the levers. If you learn things from the gears perspective, you understand why they produce the end result that they produce. If you learn from the levers level, you simply understand the How.

So start asking “Why” and then ask more importantly; “Why Not?” That’s the birthplace of all ideas, the birthplace of innovation and the source of great engineering.