How The Toyota Corporation Can Help To Improve Your Relationships, Productivity, and Health

During the first Persian Gulf war the death rate among soldiers was 25%.  Contrast that to where it ultimately ended up toward the end of the war  and today at 10% and the conclusion for this drastic decrease must be some revolutionizing advancement in medicine or military strategy, right?  Wrong.  As you’ll read in just a minute the change was actually minor and subtle.

Often times when presented with what appear to be large and difficult obstacles to overcome we lose track of the real problem and in turn the needed solution.  For example, recently I was standing in my kitchen when from the ceiling water started pouring down to the floor.  Now I had a series of problems on my hand: 1. there was water on the kitchen floor (that by itself could cause more damage), 2. the water was coming from somewhere, and 3. I had no idea where it was coming from.

Now consider for a moment if I had stopped at problem #1- that there was water on floor (the most immediate problem).  What would have happened?  I would have cleaned the water up only to later have to clean it up again.

No, the real problem wasn’t the water on the kitchen floor, it wasn’t even the drywall in the ceiling losing it’s capacity to retain water (this is not a function of drywall by the way), it wasn’t even the bathtub in the bathroom above me.  The problem was a pipe that leaked from the bathtub drain and then set a series of events in motion.

Now this example is a pretty straight forward approach to problem-solving that all of us would likely have come to if presented with the same situation. However, it does demonstrate a method of problem solving that I picked up from the Toyota Corporation in how they overcome setbacks or attempt to improve productivity.


 In short Kiichiro Toyoda (not a typo) developed a system in which to get to the root cause of a problem he would ask “why” 5 times.  This method is still practiced within Toyota and has been adopted by many other corporations as well.

In practice for Toyota it looks like this…. a welding robot stopping in the middle of its operation:

  1. “Why did the robot stop?”The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
  2. “Why is the circuit overloaded?”There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”Because there is no filter on the pump.

If they had simply changed the fuse it might have fixed the setback but not the ultimate guaranteed future failure.

For you it might look like this:

“I can’t lose weight”

  1. “Why can’t I lose weight?” – I eat poorly and have no energy to workout.
  2.  “Why do I eat poorly?” – I do not have time to prepare meals in advance.
  3. ” Why don’t I have time to prepare meals in advance?” – I have busy evenings with  my family that require most of my time in the evening.
  4.  “Why does it require most of my time in the evening” – We do not have systems in place that allow for everyone to carry a little bit of the weight in the evening.
  5. “Why do we not have systems in place to spread the duties?” – I didn’t realize that we could have any.  My spouse and I have never had a discussion about delegating, sharing desires and goals, and becoming more efficient with our time.

This is an actual example that I was involved in working with one of my clients that to them they just “couldn’t EVER get the pieces all aligned” to move forward.  What was showing up as a weight problem was actually a situation in which they had not even shared their new lifestyle goals with their spouse.

The end story was that not only did they create time to prepare meals in advance with new systems.  I was also told that the question that brought them to their spouse sparked a deep and intimate conversation about many areas of their life that they had not had in a long while.

So for those of you that have been waiting to hear how the soldier mortality rate was decreased so significantly with a small change let me finish the story now.

Rather than just continue to question and figure out how to deal with all of the injuries and resulting deaths, doctors asked a more revealing question.  “Why had so many injuries occurred?” 

What they started to do was consider all of the data that they had a their disposal.  What they found is that a large number of injuries involved trauma to the eyes.  What they came to discover was that soldiers weren’t wearing their protective goggles.  Soldiers thought that the stock issued goggles were ugly and chose not to wear them.

The solution: The military switched to a “cooler” looking ballistic eyewear.  The result was that soldiers wore the equipment and injury rates dropped immediately.

When facing a problem take the “5 why” approach and see what you come up with.  It almost always seems to surprise me what it comes up with for both me and my clients, so, with that said…buyer beware.  The surprises are not always so pleasant.


He never would have thought that the reason she couldn’t go outside was for this reason…a series of “Why” and he knew….lol

Happy Friday,

Sean Z. Callahan






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