Innovative Thinking – 5 Ws – Blog 081

The Five W’s


To help the collection process, there are a few things that will help.  Be proactive in researching random topics.  You’ll know it when you see it.  You can also take a close look at the problem or innovation you are trying to solve.  Remember, not all innovation is to solve a problem.  Sometimes it’s just for fun or to create something new.  Angry Birds wasn’t to solve a problem other than getting Rovio’ rich.

The closer you look at what you already know, the easier it will be for your subconscious to find the missing pieces.  One very powerful technique is the Five W’s; Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.  I guess it should be called the Five W’s and an extra H, but that doesn’t sound as good.

The Who, What, Where, When, Why, How techniques have been attributed to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.  Sakichi found great success using this in the 1970’s to propel Toyota into the major league of auto manufacturing.  But sadly, he didn’t invent it.

The Five W’s was first used in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by The New York Times.  The Times wanted fresh news from inside all of the densely populated ethnic neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods they could send reporters into.

So they would find young boys; 12 years old or so and turn them into reporters (Cub Reporters, get it? “Cub” reporters).  They were told to go get the stories and if they answered the Five W’s, they would have enough information.  Then a real reporter could turn the information into a real story.  For each story they got paid 5¢.

The point being, if you thoroughly answer the Five W’s, you will have told the story about your problem, what you know, and what you don’t know well enough.  Your subconscious will then identify what’s missing and how to solve your problem.

Let’s take a closer look at the Five W’s.

Here’s a quick example using the Five W’s on the Paper Models Marketing Campaign from above.

Who: The “Who” was, who did the problem affect?

As mentioned above, it actually affected the Port of San Diego.  As the Port is common to all of the W’s, let’s take that out of the equation.  When I analyzed it closely, the actual affected parties were children, parents, and teachers.  We weren’t reaching them.

What: The “What” was, determine and identify exactly what is causing the challenge or the problem.

The problem was marketing to children and parents without a budget.  We had to hook the kids (and the parents) some way.  If we hooked the kids, the parents and teachers would follow.

Where: The “Where” was exactly where does the problem happen? Where does the solution need to be applied?

As we determined above, we didn’t have a budget to work with, so it had to be free so, I chose the Internet.

Why: The Why was why does the problem occur? Why is it happening? We aren’t reaching our complete demographic, the kids, parents, and teachers.  These individuals are a huge influential market segment.

When: The when was, when does it happen.  When do the kids NOT engage when they should.  It turned out it was 24/7/365,  especially on nights and weekends.

How: The How was, how am I going to hook kids for free over the Internet.  The answer fell out…  Downloadable toys and educational school projects.

I know, I would never have pitched it this way to my boss at the time.  It sounds way too creepy, but you know what I mean.


“If you really want something you can figure out how to make it happen.”



Lon Safko
Serial Innovator, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Innovative Thinking


Tags: innovative thinking, creative, creative thinking, Innovation, critical thinking definition, innovation definition, critical thinking skills, creative process

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