The Right Level of 'Deepness'

The 5 Whys is a common business analysis technique used to help determine underlying cause/effect relationships. Oftentimes, I'm given a technology requirement from a business partner that seems to only tell part of a story. For example -- if someone said, "I need need the new website to have a big button that allows users to request customer service support." Why? Because, we've been getting a lot of calls from client XYZ and they are unhappy with the customer support. At this point, I'm starting to realize that the problem might not be customer support, but rather something else on the site that is confusing users. Continuing down the path of asking "why" eventually leads to the real underlying problem. 

The Right Deepness
Innovation works the same way: we want to fix a problem through a new creative solutions, but haven't even taken the time to understand the real problem. If you're constantly trying to tackle superficial problems, you'll find that you'll only have incremental innovation. If you take the time to analyze and ask questions, you may be surprised to find out how deep or widespread the issue actually is. A word of warning - when you ask 'why' so many times that you start uncovering 'unfixable' problems, consider taking a step back and work on the issues you can reasonably solve. I was having the why discussion with a group from work and we got to the point of asking why so many times that we were facing cultural norms and fundamental human nature. Could we fix them? Not with the amount of time and money we had available. Instead, we took it back a level and explored all the factors involved with that problem. Lesson? Don't take all problems at face value. Dig into the  issue, but step back once the problem gets beyond your scope.