The 5 Why's of the Jefferson Memorial

and what midges, spiders and pressure washers can teach you about coaching

In May of 1990, while tourists admired the beautiful Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., a 50 pound chunk of marble fell from the top of a column and crashed into the floor.

(and if you’re wondering at this point, YES, this will come full circle as to how you can be a better coach!)

Thankfully, no tourists were hurt - but this moment uncovered a serious problem.

The Jefferson Memorial was deteriorating way faster than it was supposed to.

A consulting firm was hired for $2M to solve the problem, so they started with a basic question: Why?

Specifically, why was the marble and limestone aging and crumbling so quickly?

After some investigation, they found out the memorial was being pressure washed frequently.

So, why was it being pressure washed?

Turns out there was a lot of bird poop.

Why was there so much bird poop?

Birds love spiders, and the memorial had a ton of spiders.

Why were there so many spiders living at the memorial?

Spiders eat midges (tiny flies), which there were also a ton of in the building.

So why were there so many midges?

Apparently they like to reproduce in bright light.

Bet you can’t guess what building was flooded with bright lights every night…

Oh, the Jefferson Memorial, you say?

You’re right on!

So now they knew the root of the problem: Too much light at night.

How’d they fix it?

Instead of turning on the lights immediately at sunset, they decided to wait until one hour after sunset to flip the switch.

The result?

90% less midges.

Spiders virtually disappeared.

Bird poop vanished almost overnight.

Imagine trying to solve this same problem with a knee jerk response like:

  • More frequent cleanings

  • Pesticides

  • Restoring the entire building

None of them would’ve solved the real problem.

All would’ve been super expensive and time consuming.

So next time you’re helping a coaching client solve a problem, don’t stop at just asking “why?” once.

Go deep.

Maybe even ask 5 layers deep.

Sure, every situation is unique.

But if you try, you might just find your own “Jefferson Memorial” level solution where one change solves a bunch of problems at the core, instead of one problem on the surface.

Quote of the week:

If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

Albert Einstein

Song of the week:

- Kirk

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