Two Questions (Three Words) for Every Problem

Today we have a guest post courtesy of Brenton Russell of Uncork Your Mind.  While he’s a relative newcomer in the lifestyle design niche, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the articles on his blog.  In this post, Brenton talks about two simple questions you should ask whenever you face an obstacle.  You’ll definitely want to check this out, because this gives an actionable process you can use whenever you face a difficult challenge…

If you’ve ever seen the show ‘Jeopardy’ you’d know that in order to win you just need to ask the right questions.  Like the game show when you encounter challenges, uncertainty or new information in life if you ask the right questions the way forward becomes apparent.

Ask Questions to Solve ProblemsThe right question cuts to the heart of any issue leading you to actionable solutions.

Two powerful questions that can be used to dissect just about any problem and unlock the way forward are:

  • “Why?”
  • “So What?”

Let me explain!

Mental Laziness

The easiest part of a problem is to observe it. Unfortunately most of us stop here preferring to admire the problem rather than understand its implications or find a solution.  Why?  Because identifying a problem often doesn’t require much thought; just perception.

Analysis of a problem and finding and implementing a solution requires far more mental discipline than just identifying it.  Determining the implications and potential applications of new information is the same.  So What? If you develop the habit of analysis you will be rewarded with action plans for overcoming your challenges and the ability to exploit new information.

Solving Problems with “Why?”

The extended version of “Why?” is

  • “So Why Is This So?”

By the very nature of asking this question, you are now determining how this problem came to be.  You are effectively exploringcausal effects: determining the relationship between an event (the cause) and a subsequent event (effect).  With a deeper understanding of problems and their causes more appropriate actions can be identified to solve the challenge.  Think of it like treating the actual cause of an issue rather than just its symptoms.

Exploiting New Info with “So What?”

The long version of “So What?” is:

  • “So What Does This Mean?”

Asking yourself ‘So What?’ of the information around you allows this to be transformed into useful deductions. Again it is the very nature of the question “So What?” that leads you to make these deductions.  From here it is only a short step from these deductions to useful actions.

Keep Asking Until Action is Obvious

When encountering a specific problem or information, if the first “Why?” or “So What?” didn’t lead you to an actionable solution, then keep asking.  Repeat these questions until you have a plan of attack for solving the problem or have drawn useful deductions from the specific information.


Here’s a couple of my real life examples:

Problem: The email list from my website is not growing very quickly.


  • No many people are using my sign up box.
    • Ask “Why?” again – You can barely see it amongst the rest of my page.
    • Ask “Why?” again – There’s not really a compelling reason to give up your email address.

Action Plan: Spice up the design of my sign up box, shift it further up the page and create a free, compelling offer upon sign up that people can’t refuse.

Why Else?

  • Not many people are actually seeing my sign up box.
    • Ask “Why?” again – Because my traffic is not high enough.
    • Ask “Why?” again – Because when people come to my site they are fixated on the article from the link that brought them there.

Action Plan: Create a squeeze page designed just for signing up to my email list and link to this page (instead of my homepage or specific posts) in future articles, guest posts and social media avenues.

Information: I recently heard an opinion that anyone can make money blogging, it just takes five years (Steve Pavlina).

So What?:

  • If I want to make money from my blog I need to manage my expectations about when it will be financial viable.
  • Blogging success seems much harder than I originally thought.  I need to be prepared for hard work with little initial financial reward.
  • If it is going to take a while to be successful at blogging I really should be choosing something that I am interested in.
  • If financial success takes time, while I am developing my blog I need to have goals and measures of success that aren’t just income related.

Action Plan: I am going to commit to creating a blog but I am going to pick that topic that I really love.  I now realise that I am going to need other sources of income initially so I am going to look for some part time work that will support me financially while I am developing the website.  I will measure my success in the first year by my engagement with readers and the blogging community and I will now revise my target for when I aim to have my blog generating an income that can support my lifestyle design.

Put It Into Action

Asking “Why?” and “So What?” are powerful ways to dissect problems and identify actionable solutions.  Asking these questions trains your mind to analyse problems and information rather than just admire them.  Think of the biggest problem or significant information that you have recently encountered but ignored: ask “Why?” and “So What?” now and see what solutions you can instantly identify!

Steve’s Note: In addition to what many of the blogs on the internet will tell you, Brenton believes that there is more to lifestyle design than creating a passive online income!  Learn more about other practical lifestyle design techniques at Brenton Russell’s Lifestyle Design Blog  ‘Uncork Your Mind’ regardless of what your desired life looks like.

Take Action. Get Results.

22 thoughts on “Two Questions (Three Words) for Every Problem”

  1. This is interesting. In my offline life I work in purchasing and quality for a small manufacturing plant. One of the tools our Japanese customers (automotive) require us to use when solving quality problems is their “5 Whys” system.

    Why was the part rejected? Because it’s the wrong size.
    Why is it the wrong size? Because the machine was set incorrectly.
    Why was the machine set incorrectly? Because the operator failed to read the work instruction.

    By the time you get to the final “why” you have a pretty good understanding of the actual cause of the problem, rather than just a superficial response. Take action on that final “why” and you’re much more likely to permanently solve the problem.

    I never thought of it as having a place in my online business, but I’m definitely going to start using it. Thanks!

  2. Hi Cindy,

    Thanks for the great example of the “Why?” question in action. If we only ever treat the superficial symptoms of a problem, than we will never fix the real cause of an issue. As you rightfully point out, treating the real cause of a problem means that the issue is far more likely to be solved permanently.

    I really like the concept of “The 5 Whys” as it provides a structure around continually questioning the problem until the cause (and therefore the way forward) becomes apparent.

    Thanks again for providing your real life example of the “Why?” in action.

  3. Thank you!

    For the longest time, I always tried to explain people to just keep asking “why” in every detail of their life – it really does become a very powerful question “why did that person do X”, “why does X do Y?” – that mindset of always questioning your surroundings so that you’re open to learning.

    Even though I use it mostly for my personal life, I do need to go back through my blog and ask those questions for other aspects like RSS and more.

  4. Hiteve and Brendan

    Nice guest post here. A unique style and new topic. Makes it a good read.
    Fran A

  5. Interestingly enough, if you’re ever recruiting someone always go for the employees that ask why as they are naturally the most inquisitive and the ones that ask how are the ones that will need the most support.

    Great guest post Brenton.

  6. Brenton,

    Thanks for a great post! I am sorry the timing is so bad, since the site redesign didn’t quite go the way I expected with the threading comments not working properly.

    You did a great guest post and I really appreciate it!

  7. Hi Brenton & Steve

    I love that after you explain the questions and the relevance of asking them that you give us some practical examples.

    Very helpful post. Challenging too. Too easy to have a problem, say too hard and either leave it unsolved or give up!

    With your approach , it challenges us to think and solve the problems. It will also improve the way we approach problem solving and solutions. Really enjoyed the post. Thanks Brenton.

    Patricia Perth Australia

  8. @Matthew Needham – This is an interesting observation. I am wondering if certain types of employment roles leans people to ask different questions.

    For example, if you are interviewing for a leadership position or for a conceptual thinker than I agree that this type of person should instinctively ask more”Why?” questions. However, a more technically minded person (such as an engineer) may be inclined to ask more “How?” questions as their mental habits have been developed to think more about how things work in preference to conceptual reasoning.

  9. @Patricia – Thanks for the feedback. I really strive to make my posts ‘actionable’ so they are more than just time fillers for the reader.

    We have an amazing ability to train our brain to think in different specific ways. Unfortunately many of us unconsciously train unhelpful mental behaviours such as negativity, lack of confidence etc.

    I believe that consciously asking ourselves useful questions is a great way to train constructive mental habits which can significantly contribute to life happiness and fulfillment. I’m glad you found this useful.

    I’m living on the Sunshine Coast and I hope that Perth is experiencing better weather than what we are at the moment!

  10. Great post Brenton,

    I am a huge fan of asking questions. “he who ask questions can not avoid the answers”

    Questions are like onions. With every furthur probing question we peel off a layer untill be reach the real underlying answer.


  11. @Murlu – Its great to hear from others who also understand the value of asking “Why?” I think that we become so accustomed to accepting authority and ‘conventional wisdom’ that we lose the ability to question things around.

    I emphasise ‘lose the ability’ because if you’ve ever spent time around young kids you’ll often spend most of your time answering their endless questions of “Why?”

    Somewhere along the way we lose this mindset. Maybe we need to think more like kids sometimes!

  12. This is a great post. In the software development world there is the “5 whys” which pretty much works the same way.

    I think a key for this to work is for the person asking why to be objective with their questioning. Sometimes we’re a bit too close to our own stuff to be able to take an honest look at it. To add one more small step to this, it might help to ask someone else why as well. I know it works for me as I’m way to close to my own stuff, or my ego gets in the way 🙂

    Thanks for a great post Brenton. I especially love the 5 year quote about making money blogging. Classic.

  13. @Robert Dempsey – Hi Robert. Its a great point you make about being too close to your own stuff to be objective. I guess this is why personal coaches, mentors, peer reviewing etc can be so successful.

    Steve Pavlina’s a pretty insightful guy. Initially I had the naive believe that if I randomly wrote about the things that interest me hordes of other people would be interested as well. I’m glad that I was initially naive because if I truly understood what actually went in to running your own website before I got hooked I don’t think that I would still be persisting!

  14. Only observing the problems doesn’t really help all that much (I can vouch for that), but like you said, asking questions of why is the problem happening, what are the reasons of that problems starting to happen, can lead you in the right direction, that is solving the problem.

    Many people just thing, that they can superficially analyze a problem and give it a quick fix (treating the symptoms ) instead of asking more and more questions, until there is no other questions to be asked. That is the core of the problem, the cause, if you solve that all the other symptoms will solve themselves like little jigsaw puzzle.

    That is I always like the proverb: “Go for the archer not for the arrows!”

  15. Great post, and good example with the mailing list and squeeze page. I find it’s more worth it to pitch and link to the squeeze page in every opportunity because one subscriber often means a lifetime reader/customer, rather than just someone who reads your blog, or buys your product once and goes away.

  16. @Alex – Great quote to keep ourselves focussed on the root causes of issues. Symptoms are often easier to see and treat which is why we often react to them and feel like we are moving forward. As you point out, treating the symptoms is far less effective than getting the heart of the problem.

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