Sluething with ‘Why? Why?……and Why?’

Here’s an interesting story (slightly edited) of figuring out a simple solution to a bothersome problem, from the site: http://www.idea

…Some years ago, there was a big problem at one of America’s most treasured monuments — the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

Simply put, birds — in huge numbers — were pooping all over it, which made visiting the place a very unpleasant experience.

Attempts to remedy the situation caused even bigger problems, since the harsh cleaning detergents being used were damaging the memorial. And the National Parks workers, though not necessarily attracted to the bird poop, were attracted to getting paid — so they spent a lot of their time (and taxpayer money) cleaning the Memorial.

Prima-facie, possible fixes were:

1. Hire more workers to clean the Memorial
2. Ask existing workers to work overtime
3. Experiment with different kinds of cleaning materials
4. Put bird poison all around the memorial
5. Hire hunters to shoot the birds
6. Encase the entire Jefferson Memorial in Plexiglas
7. Move the Memorial to another part of Washington
8. Close the site to the general public

Technically speaking, each of the above “solutions” was a possible approach — but at great cost, inconvenience, and with questionable results.

Fortunately, some of the National Parks managers assigned to the case began asking WHY — as in “Why was the Jefferson Memorial so much more of a target for birds than any of the other memorials?”

A little bit of investigation revealed the following:

The birds were attracted to the Jefferson Memorial because of the abundance of spiders — a gourmet treat for birds.

The spiders were attracted to the Memorial because of the abundance of midges (insects) that were nesting there.

And the midges were attracted to the Memorial because of the light.

Midges, it turns out, like to procreate in places where the light is just so — and because the lights were turned on, at the Jefferson Memorial, one hour before dark, it created the kind of mood lighting that midges went crazy for.

So there you have it: The midges were attracted to the light. The spiders were attracted to the midges. The birds were attracted to the spiders.

How did they resolve the situation? Very simply:

After reviewing the curious chain of events that led up to the problem, the decision was made to wait until dark before turning the lights on at the Jefferson Memorial.

That one-hour delay was enough to ruin the mood lighting for the midges, who then decided to have midge sex somewhere else.

No midges, no spiders. No spiders, no birds. No birds, no poop. No poop, no need to clean the Jefferson Memorial so often. Case closed.

Solved simply by asking WHY…. and then WHY again… and then WHY again!!…

Do we have similar local examples from public or personal experiences?



15 Responses to Sluething with ‘Why? Why?……and Why?’

  1. Bala Ramachandran says:

    We enjoyed story very much . It is very real we often fail to look for simple remedy, may be because we are so irritated with the problem we capacity to think is in the minimum level. Unless it is some thing that needs Immediate attention . We should take some time off from the problem. Once we are cool we normally get right remedy. In some cases we learn to live with the problem [ that way we have solved our problems very many times.] Only these things makes the life more interesting.


  2. Raj says:

    Wonderful case study.


  3. a problem of people spitting in the corridors corner was tackled by istalling tiles on which some deitys image was there.Of course no why behind the why was investigated……but a local solution nevertheless!


  4. Harish G says:

    A nice narrative !
    The only Q of ‘Why, Why, Why ?’ I ask these days is about marriage !!!

    Seriously, I think the issue of not being able to go behind the root cause/s and arriving at a very simple solution to many of our problems is possibly because of time and pretences of modern management. People all around are under pressure of having to achieve their KRAs and move on to the next under intesnse pressure of time. Creativity and unpeeling issues layer by layer just doesn’t stand a chance when confronted by modern pressure driven processes. As a result simple problems are challenged by complex solutions – like encasing the memorial in Pexiglass ! And it takes quite a strong boss to allow and fiesty individual employees to stick to a path of creativity and simplicity and come up with solutions that save organisations of all kinds millions of Rs/$/Whatever !
    When I joined my profession 25 years ago I used to regularly see this happening in my first assignment – at a giant cement factory. The number of simple innovations was mind boggling. Of late I have not come across even a single heart warming innovation of a simple nature which solves an irritating issue. Ask around and you’ll be confronted with a plethora of reasons. The most common one – Innovate or conquer KRAs fast ? And appears innovation has now been outsourced in many companies. Individual employees no longer see innovation as a critical part of their assignment. They wait for specialists to come in !


  5. Sanjay says:

    Please dont reveal such secrets of Consultants like me. We are paid to ask the questions that normally people dont think of asking themselves, or are too lazy to ask.

    But, a good example of working towards preventing a mishap rather than focusing on corrective action.


  6. gopal says:

    The Root cause !! When have I ever thought about it. Where have I ever analysed it . Who has the time for it. Why it never occured to me ,in the first place. What is it I wonder…no no Mgmt jargon..just thinking about myself

    Good one Raghu..Life is very simple but most of the times we complicate it by THALAYA SUTTHI MOOKKA THOTTU,illiya


  7. Basudev Pal says:

    Had a similar experience in Alloy Steels plant. We had a Mangnum 2 which was rebooting without explanation. It was running the FMIS system on Oracle so rebooting meant all Receipts and Payments at front office close creating huge public annoyance. Everything failed as we changed every spare in the machine. One day I was sitting outside the cpu room for some line printing work. Noticed that the automatic Temp controlled AC that was there switched on the compressor and after 30 secs the machine rebooted. I reported the problem. Voltas came they said that compressor goes on if there is a quick temperature difference. We saw when the compressor goes on a magnetic surge is created which reboots the computer.

    So the Automatic temp controlled system was stopped. No reboot.

    Later on the CPU room was moved to another place.

    The Temp controlled AC unit was again switched on. Later on it was found that the line printer whenever it started or stopped gave a surge which activated the AC unit to turn on the compressor at a high cool!!!!

    Had it been noticed before we could have stopped 10 months bad press, rebuilding of CPU room and save money. Well that was 1993.


  8. Rajiv says:

    I had heard about a problem that was faced by skyscrapers of Manhattan about 30+ years back. As the elevators were a bit slow (and not as “clever”), the morning rush hours would invariably cause long queues of office goers waiting to get into the elevators and reach their offices without being late.

    Every morning, the property managers would see frustration and anger on the faces of people anxiously waiting in the lobby. The management considered all possible alternatives but were unable to resolve the issue and frustration of their tenants continued.

    Then walked in a smart consultant; he realised that increasing number of elevators or increasing the speed of elevators was not an option. So he came up with a simple solution to take away frustration of the people – he installed a number of full length mirrors in the lobby, just where people would queue up.

    Now everyone was still waiting in the queue for exactly same amount of time. But they now have something else to do while waiting – something that everyone loves to do, and can do for any length of time – watch himself / herself in the mirror; without any frustration peeping in! Problem solved!!


  9. Subir says:

    This is really a very good example of why one needs to ask the right questions at right moments. All the issue resolutions are based on the facts of asking the right questions when needed. Specially, if you get the answers of sequential questions as “What”, “When”, “Where”, “Why”, “How”, “Who”, the proper solution will be in front of you.


  10. vidya says:

    As housewives,we too face face plenty of problems which have simple solutions but are never thought of.
    In my case the idea of dealing with a number of servants.Each one of them would complain about the other person,landing up doing less work saying that the other one is not effective.Again the comparison of salaries.But when they are together they are so lovey-dovey gossiping on any topic under the Sun.It was a big problem to me.
    I thought for a while and did this.
    I allocated different timing for each of them,so that they dont meet each other atall.Regarding quality of work i simply praised the other person as efficient and duty bound.
    This was effective.You must visit my house now to believe what I say!


  11. V Narayanan says:

    Wonderful indeed


  12. swayaz says:

    Hi Raghu, Swati Tari here..
    I a bit late and have started catching up on your blogs..these are very very interesting and willd definately guide in my endeavors with blogging…
    This particular one reminded of CAR and the 5 Why? that should be asked 🙂


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