Today’s students are so often focused on the “what.” What classes will they take next year? What experiences will they seek out over the summer? What colleges will they apply to, and what major or career will they ultimately pursue? While important, simply asking “what” your next plan or goal will be can limit a student from uncovering the deeper meaning, motivation, strengths, and purpose from which such experiences and decisions may stem. Instead, we encourage students to ask a different question, or rather, a different series of the same fundamental question; “Why?”
The 5 Whys Methodology: A Valuable Tool for Students
The 5 Whys methodology was developed by the automaker Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda (Johnson, 2021). Originally used as a production methodology, the 5 Whys can also provide students with a unique framework to identify and express the underlying forces driving their decisions, behaviors, and future directions. The approach involves first asking a student “why” they want to do something or may be facing a particular problem. For example, “Why do you want to major in biomedical engineering?” or “Why did you fall short of your grade goal for this quarter?” This process of asking “why” is repeated a total of 5 times, building consecutively on the previous answer until the specific root cause or motivator of the particular issue becomes clear.
Enhancing Student Success
In an academic setting, this approach can address a crucial element of student success: motivation. The question “why?” uncovers the key areas a student should change in their daily habits to achieve positive, long-term results. Recognizing a student’s underlying motivators or distractions can lead to more effective strategies that improve academic performance. This might be better organization and executive functioning skills or improved study tactics and note-taking practices.
Clarifying Student’s Path
The 5 Whys approach can also clarify a student’s broader career interests. Understanding the underlying reasons a student may wish to pursue a particular profession or field can bring to light the relevant strengths and passions students may already possess. This clarifying process reveals what lies at the core of a student’s interest, enabling it to be communicated most effectively to others, such as an admissions officer or a future employer.
Identifying one’s purpose and unique motivators throught his framework can ultimately help students to uncover the underlying factors through which they can achieve their best and tell their story in the most meaningful way possible.