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Strategies Quick Learners Use To Pick Up Anything: Ask Why 5 Times

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To understand a problem, ask "why" five times. In "The Lean Startup," author Eric Ries offers the "Five Whys" technique for getting to the root of an issue. The idea is to get to the underlying cause of a superficial problem — one that, more often than not is more human than technical error. 

To see the quintuple-why strategy in action, lets look at his hypothetical startup example

1. A new release disabled a feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.

2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.

3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn't know how to use it properly.

4. Why didn't he know? Because he was never trained.

5. Why wasn't he trained? Because his manager doesn't believe in training new engineers because he and his team are "too busy."

By pushing the inquiry five times, Ries says we can see how a "purely technical fault is revealed quickly to be a very human managerial issue."

More here:

Another five whys root cause analysis example:

very cool stuff!  little life tricks!

Root cause analysis is useful for figuring out why things around the house are failing, too.

and why my lower back is hurting!

why? because i picked up a heavy potted plant the wrong way.

why? because i wasn't paying attention.

why? because i was tired.

why? because i pushed myself too hard.

why? because i wanted to move my whole house in one day!

and now i have been at rest for four days, and my back is still seizing up, which means i could have moved at a fifth of the speed and accomplished just as much without injury.

That is excellent analysis, Emily. And I hope your back feels better!

Learn the difficult stuff at the start of the day.

Willpower is finite, research shows. We have lots at the start of the day, but it gets depleted as we make decisions and resist temptations. (That's why shopping is so exhausting.) So if you're learning a language, an instrument, or anything else that's super complex, schedule it for the start of the day, since you'll have the most mental energy then. 

Use the 80/20 rule. 

The 80/20 rule states that you get 80% of your value out of 20% of work. In business, 20% of activities produce 80% of results that you want. Fast learners apply the same logic to their research areas. 

Quora user Stefan Jerome, a student at the University of Leicester in England, provides an example

When I look at a book, for example, I look though the contents page and make a list from 1-5 with 1 being the chapter with the most relevant material. When looking through a instructional video, I often skip to the middle where the action or technique is being demonstrated, then I work backwards to gain the context and principles.

This works, he says, since the beginning of most videos will be fluffed with exposition, and most books are layered in with filler to make length requirements. So with a little cunning, you can extract most of the knowledge from those materials while investing a fraction of the time.

SEE ALSO:  27 Tips For Mastering Anything

I LOVED this example:

For us, “the Five Whys” worked in a fairly straightforward manner. We began by identifying a problem: We never managed to have family dinner. Then we explored, at the most surface level, why that was true: Because my wife and I always got home later than we expected.

Then came another question: Why were we getting home so late? The answer was that, although we intended to leave the office by 5, we often found it impossible to walk away from our desks because there were so many miscellaneous tasks we had ignored during the day.

That prompted the third question: Why had we ignored all those tasks? Well, inevitably, we arrived at work each morning just as our first meetings were starting, and so rather than deal with unread memos and emails, we put them aside until later in the day – and then, when we finally got to them, there were new memos and emails that demanded our attention.

The fourth question: Why were we arriving at work right before our first meetings, rather than earlier in the day? Because although we always intended to leave the house at 8 and get the kids to school, we usually ran late, and didn’t get out the door until 8:20 or so.

And, finally, why were we leaving the house later than we planned? Because it took so long to get the kids dressed in the morning that we always left later than we expected.

We had started by identifying a problem — we never managed to have family dinner — and by using “the Five Whys” found a root cause: Our kids were taking too long to get dressed in the morning.

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