How to Find the Real Problem by Asking the Three Whys…

Let me ask you a question — how do you derive at the real problem whenever you’re trying to fix something? Often times we think the issue we’re focused on will resolve that issue. But the truth is, most often, it won’t. In many instances what we’re treating is the symptom and not the root cause. Which also points to a huge issue in general, which is we put stock and value in the wrong things. So how do we remedy that and what should we be focusing on? Well, in this lesson, I (Phil Svitek), will show you a simple tactic called the three why theory to get to the route of any issue. I’ll draw inspiration and examples from Patch Adams, Ricardo Semler and After you’ve heard this lesson, please comment with any issues you’re facing that you’ll apply this technique towards. I’m very curious to know. Lastly, I’m grateful you’ve taken the time to hear what I have to say. May the knowledge I’ve shared serve you well.


-Tim Ferriss’ Ricardo Semler Interview:

-A Very LA Birthday Short Film: 




-Adorama Affiliate Link:  

Available Platforms to Watch/Listen to Show:

I get it – your life is busy and you’re constantly on the go and so it might not be very convenient to keep visiting my website for every new lesson. I myself listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books while driving. So to help you keep up to date with all my episodes in a fast, simple and easy way, here’s all the apps and direct links you can use.


Greetings! I am Phil Svitek and it’s my pleasure to help creatives, like you, master mental fortitude because it takes way more than just talent and luck to succeed in the entertainment industry.

Before I begin this lesson, allow me to invite you to subscribe if you haven’t already done so. Doing so will alert you of new lessons that I post. Thank you if you just subscribed.

Alright, let’s dive in. Let me start by asking you this:

That’s right. Too often, we focus on the problem from a face value perspective. In order to get to the root of any problem, you need to ask the three whys. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Every time something arises, ask why is that three times in a row.

Here’s an example of it in action from an article:

John Smith (JS) talking to his boss: “I think I need to quit, I really don’t like my job.”

John’s Boss: “Why don’t you like your job?”

JS: “The atmosphere isn’t what it used to be when I started. It feels toxic and I never used to hate showing up for work, but now I do.”

Boss: “Why do you hate showing up for work?”

JS: “The culture that existed when I started working here has changed. It’s just not the same.”

Boss: “Why do think the culture has changed?”

JS: “Well, it’s that new guy, Tom. He’s so negative. He has a comment for everything. He’s frustrating to be around and really hurts our team’s dynamic.”

Therein lies the real problem. It’s not that John Smith hates his job, he just dislikes the negativity of the new staffer. Here’s the kicker. Firing Tom is not the answer. At this point one must use the three whys to discover the cause of Tom’s negativity. The boss would need to talk to Tom and try to find out what the issue is. Perhaps it can be fixed in the context of work or perhaps it can’t. But at least it allows Tom the ability and a real chance to resolve what’s wrong and become an asset to the company. If he can’t, then yes, it may be time to consider firing him.

Ricardo Semler, the former CEO of Semco Partners, took this idea even further with his Brazilian company that is best known for its radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering. Whenever it came to his company, he would employ the use of the three whys in making decisions. He started with questions like “why do we need to wear suits?” or “why do we need to have titles?” and “why do we need set hours?”

Through the process, Ricardo learned there were no real good answers as to why they had any of those rules in place. They didn’t need a dress code. They didn’t need to have official titles and they didn’t need to have set hours. He found that by outlining the principles and goals of the company and letting everyone else work as they pleased towards those, it was a net gain. For example, if it helped someone to call themselves the South American Regional Sales Manager during a business meeting, so be it. If it helped to come into work at 5am to make international calls and sell products instead of at 9am, then perfect. The product was sold. That’s what really mattered, not when they actually worked.

It was radical thinking fully executed and it worked. Best of all, it wasn’t happenstance. The reason why Ricardo’s methods worked is because he defined the bigger picture. People knew the direction they were supposed to be going in and the metrics by which they would be measured against. Rather than sweat the minutia, they propelled the company forward, going from four million in 1982 to two hundred and twelve million by 2003.

That’s great, right? But you may be thinking, how does this apply to me? Well, you too can apply the three whys in your life. Apply it to anything in fact! Doing so really solidifies the reasons as to why you’re doing something. Once you start utilizing this exercise, you’ll begin to be able to identify and work on more things that matter to you. Things that you’re passionate about. Sure, you might ask yourself, why do I have to go to my day job? Well, even with a question like that, you can derive at the answer of: it helps me pay my bills so I can then focus on my creative projects.

So, what I want you to do is write down three separate questions or problems you’ve been dealing with or asking yourself. It could be something like “should I take this new job?” or “what if I spent less time socializing and more time working?” Perhaps it’s “should I move to a different city?”. Maybe “which project should I work on first?” It doesn’t matter. Be as personal and specific as you can get. Then apply the three whys to them. Push yourself to answer each why as best as you can, don’t just phone it in. The better your answers are, the more you’ll have to push yourself to answer with the next “why” better. This exercise is all about examination. More specifically, self examination. This exercise is a tool to help determine what matters to you.

To get philosophical for just a second, I often find we measure life in terms of length. This person lived 80 years. This person lived to 90. Etc. But what about the width of a lifetime? We don’t talk about that. A person can live many years in life, but what’s their imprint, especially to themselves? Are you doing what matters to you? A simple technique such as asking the three whys whenever you can allow you to widen your happiness in present moments. It’s not really like mediation, but it does help shift your perspective and become more in tune with your passions and beliefs.

A few final tips. First off, the number three is arbitrary. Sometimes it might take asking more than three times to get to an answer you’re really seeking. Also, my personal variation of this, is that you can swap out the word why with how. Meaning, let’s say you’re trying to build a new product. Question one by defaults how do I build it? Well, you could do it yourself or get a company to help you. The second question then could be, how do I find companies that can help me? A possible answer is search for manufacturers online. From there, you might be thinking, how do I select the right one? The answer there could be, call them and interview each one.

In the example I just gave, each “how” allows you to focus on a single problem so you don’t overwhelm yourself during the process. It forces you to create bite size pieces you can overcome.

I’d love to know what questions you apply the three whys to and the impact it has on your life. Maybe you’re utilizing the how version of this technique. Either way, please go ahead and comment down below so I can read what you wrote.

Well, that’s a wrap for this lesson. Free free to click over to any of the numerous lessons I’ve created just for you. For example, last week I released an amazing 1 hour interview with social media expert Lina Noory. She shared so many valuable insights. You can access that episode and the rest along with other free resources on my website at Lastly, a huge thank you to the people that helped make this episode financially possible. If you too would like to support this show, you can either head on over to my Patreon or sport some merch from my store. Links are down below. Or you can just tell a friend about this show, which will help pass on my knowledge to them as well and we can build a great community of like-minded creatives. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to tune in. I’m @PhilSvitek on social media and I’ll see you next Wednesday with another lesson. Bye!

More episodes to check out: