Anyone who’s been around a 4-year-old knows that a question that’s key to how they learn is this one: Why?

Bright preschoolers can seem never to stop asking: Why?

Toyota Motor Corp. concluded long ago that the little ones were on to something.

One key to Toyota’s success over the years has been a technique it calls the Five Whys.

The Five Whys is a way to understand a problem deeply so that you can address it well. The point is to avoid simply latching on to a shallow or limited understanding of a problem. If you do that, you likely won’t solve it.

Toyota taught its people to make like a preschooler, to keep asking why, to keep exploring “the problem beneath the problem” until they had dug down to the real roots.

Only then could they figure out how to attack the problem smartly.

Toyota concluded that asking why five times is usually enough to get there, so that’s what it trained its designers, engineers, plant managers and marketers to do.

OK, let’s try the Five Whys on gerrymandering.

Why is a gerrymandered map a problem?

Because its wacky, wandering lines leave voters unclear about how they’re being represented and who their elected officials are.

And why is that a problem?

Because then even savvy voters aren’t sure how to convey their needs or ideas to their representatives, or how to hold those elected officials accountable at election time.

And why is that a problem?

Because it means that only the insiders, the big donors, the special interests and the committed ideologues have real influence on elected officials.

And why is that a problem?

Because incumbents realize that they don’t have to worry about pleasing the mass of voters, that the only people who can defeat them are the special interests and partisan ideologues who dominate party primaries.  

And why is that a problem?

Because it leads elected officials to abandon compromise and common sense in favor of rigid ideology, hyper-partisanship and gridlock. They do this on a host of big issues, from gun violence to health care, where polls show the desires of a large majority of Americans are pretty clear.

OK, so that was Five Whys. We could go on adding more, but we’ll stop here.

Gerrymandering is a complicated problem, a many-headed monster.  You could try the Five Whys on this issue multiple times and go down a slightly different path each time.

For instance, you’ll notice this trip through the Five Whys didn’t touch on a piece of the problem that gets tons of attention these days: how gerrymandered maps can lock in partisan advantage for one political party.

But this version of the Five Whys shows that you can grasp gerrymandering’s ill effects without getting into arguments over Red vs. Blue.  Distorted maps cause harm no matter which party holds the pen.