An interview with Mary Min Interviews

My name is Mary Min and I interview people as part of my creative passion project called the5whys, launched in March 2018. After interviewing 40+ people, it was about time for the tables to turn and for me to be on the receiving end of the questions. Joanne Oguntimehin, a good friend of mine and blogger, decided to interview me about the5whys and here’s how it went.

Explain the5whys to us in one sentence:

A collection of visual interviews encouraging people to think more critically by asking them why 5 times.

Mary is a self-confessed ‘question person’. She is known for being introspective and for having a strong desire to go beyond the small talk and jargon and get to the core of a person, what makes them them, essentially. Her curiosity is something I have always admired about her. It does not come with ulterior motives, it comes in peace to understand, connect and empathise with her fellow humans.

When asked what prompted her to start this project Mary described it as a ‘lightbulb moment’ and split her reasons into 3 categories:
The first reason was people. We spoke of the madness that was 2017 in London with Trump, Brexit, Grenfell Tower, the attacks in London Bridge, Westminster and Manchester arena, to name a few.

“I distinctly remember feeling the disparity between communities, everyone had this moment where we all thought ‘What is going on?’ People were putting up mental barriers rather than talking things out and trying to understand each other. I remember thinking then, how can I be a bridge… what can I do to help this issue?”

When she analysed why this was happening, she found it was as a result of the lack of informed decision making by individuals which in turn highlighted the importance and need for critical thinking. Were people asking ‘why’ enough or simply accepting things at face value? We spoke at length of the gravitas of being able to look at a situation, understand the context and making your own judgement. “This skill isn’t stressed enough in the current education system,” Mary states.

Secondly, she explained how she came across the concept of the 5 whys initially as an interrogation technique. To add some context here, the technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries, in the 1930s with a primary goal of determining the root cause of an issue. Interestingly, Toyota still use this method to this day. It’s also currently used in business, design and in the police to solve problems and uncover the hidden truth.

The final mix in the concoction that birthed the5whys – “I wanted to push myself creatively this year because it was a side of me which I disregarded for ages, I even did a science degree (somehow). I wanted to see where this took me by the end of the year.”

What do you think is the significance of the word ‘why’?
“Imagine a world without why. Nobody would question anything, it’s part of human nature. It can’t not exist.”

Has there been any answers that have shocked you or caught your attention for any particular reason?
“Not so much particular answers, but I have been surprised at how open some people are with their answers. Some people know exactly why they think things. Some people like the challenge. You get an insight into people’s thought processes. It’s like therapy to some people. Some people need it. It’s weird being in a position where you can see people for who they are in such a short space of time.

I feel privileged that people are open to having this conversation and feel that they can trust me on that, and with that trust comes responsibility. I’m not close to everyone I do this with, but I’ve even been surprised with interviewing my own friends!”

In order to get that starting statement for the interview, which can be challenging, one of her initial probing questions is ‘What is your elephant in the room?’

“There’s always something that everyone is dealing with usually about identity, an experience or a specific personality trait.” This is definitely true. As I scroll through the posts I note that most of them begin with ‘I’ and are about identity, current experiences/preferences or hopes and ambitions. Different posts, different people, but they all share an undeniably human tone.

Talk us through the visuals you use, i.e. the inspiration behind them, why you use them etc:
“I am a visual person and sometimes visuals can speak louder than words. I wanted it to be as accessible as possible, no barriers. I treat every post very individually which is a creative challenge in itself. There are 3 options; I take photos of them, they send me pictures or they do an anonymous post where I get creative reign to create something from scratch which is the most challenging.”

You’ve mentioned that you don’t want to limit this project to Instagram, what are you hoping to achieve with this passion project?
“New promotion. Tick. Married. Tick. New house. Tick. Baby. Tick.”

Mary candidly acknowledges Instagram’s value, but also recognises its role in misrepresenting people’s lives, making people compare themselves and become disillusioned as they are regularly updated with what everyone else is doing.

“They’re not thinking critically about what they are seeing, you don’t know what that person’s life is like. That’s where the need lies. It is essentially a movement, a way of thinking to encourage people to make better informed decisions in our day to day lives.”

“There is a lot of scope to grow and expand the project, it was always a project that could move onto other mediums. I’ve crafted a way to incorporate it into business. Currently, the focus is on growth and collaborating. Perhaps a YouTube series one day where I could do the5whys with Trump…imagine that! There’s a lot of flexibility as it can span into many aspects of life, which I’m excited to build upon. It is essentially to do with psychology, people and human relationships – you can’t limit that.”

Mary leaves us with this final realisation she has solidified through doing the5whys:


Check out the project for yourselves (@the5whys).
If you’d like to get involved as a participant or for a collab, feel free to DM me there!
Big thanks to Joanne for interviewing me, you can head to her blog here.