Cause and Effect
— Does this action address the root cause of the problem, or is this a genuine opportunity for abundance?The Cause and Effect test carries considerable weight when considering how to address a problem. It enables you to weed out the tools, actions, and policies that only suppress symptoms when what you need is to attack the real cause. The guideline is asking: ‘Does this action hit the root cause of the problem?’
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The logic of going to the root cause of a problem presents no difficulty to the simplest mind, yet it seems to me that political and economic expediency too often subverts our thinking. We have developed a culturally programmed habit of doing the opposite to what should be done.
I don't apologise therefore for using a ‘simple-minded’ metaphor to illustrate the point, even if you have seen it written elsewhere, before: If someone follows you around and periodically bashes your head with a hammer, sooner or later you are likely to develop a headache. You could say the headache is a problem, but it’s really a symptom of being repeatedly hit on the head!
You might take some aspirin to ease the symptom, and there might be new symptoms produced by the medicine, meaning you need to take stronger painkillers and, perhaps, even add more treatments. Or, you might try to stop the person hammering you, and address the real cause of your problem. Common sense dictates the latter, but in practice humans usually do the former.
Real life presents more devious situations, where symptoms or effects seem to result from multiple causes. Cause and effect is seldom a simple chain. More often it is a mesh extending infinitely in all directions. Nevertheless, the lesson of 'the aspirin and the hammer' holds true and as a practical matter we can usually see how cause ‘A’ leads to outcome ‘B’ without necessarily knowing why ‘A’ happened, or what will follow ‘B’. In other words, why the person is hitting you on the head should not blind you to the fact that the blows are causing your headache. We can act effectively on that insight—to stop the blows rather than take the aspirin—without necessarily untangling the infinite ramifications that stem from it.
Perhaps our problem is allied to human nature? It's pretty much a truism that humans tend to favour a quick fix over more permanent solutions. Possibly this is because, by nature we seek to avoid discomfort. Since most of our quick fixes involve the use of some form of technology, it is tempting to believe that technology is responsible for this quick fix mentality, but it is more likely the other way around: to evade discomfort we have developed technology.
Whichever it is, the fact remains that we are naturally inclined to resort to any one of the quick fixes that modern science so often conjures up, rather than seek to address the underlying cause of the problem. Once the fix alleviates the symptoms, however, we tend to forget we even had a problem—until it recurs, as it surely will if the underlying cause is not rectified.
The seduction of the quick fix has probably weakened humanity's endeavours in many areas, including economics, human and veterinary medicine, the conduct of war and diplomacy, education, governance, and of course the management of natural resources. Instead of fixing what's really broken or finding a fundamentally different path, we seem to print more money, invent a new drug, make a bigger bomb, suppress or buy off dissent, or build a dam. This test seeks to avoid non-solutions by first asking you to think carefully about what might be causing your problem. If the decision under consideration addresses that cause, then it passes this test.
For a practical example of this, you might like to read this news article Corn Fructose.pdf. It is about the differences between sugars. My purpose in presenting the article is not about the content, but the conclusion reached in the second last paragraph (which I have highlighted. See what you think, from the perspective of ‘Cause and Effect’.
Identifying the cause - using the “five why’s”
With a little thought, identifying the root cause of a problem is usually fairly easy, but sometimes it requires considerable probing. In most situations you can use a relatively unstructured exercise where you pose and answer the same question over and over again.
Here is the process: Ask yourself, “What is the cause of this?” When you have your answer ask, “What is the cause of that?” You may have to ask this guideline a few more times. The process is called the “Five Why’s”, and usually by the 5th ‘why’ you have reached the real problem. Hint: Don’t be surprised if your answer is very different to what you originally thought was the problem!
Some Japanese companies are noted because they insist their people use this technique to get to the root of a problem. A few years ago one such company found that the water consumption in its office building was much higher than it should have been. They were advised to install low-flow toilets and water saving taps, but before spending any money the company wanted to determine the real 'cause' of their problem. By asking a series of “why” guidelines they eventually discovered that when people use the toilets their culture causes them to flush twice: once to cover up the sound of urinating and again when they were done. Having identified the cause of the problem the company simply installed a small tape player inside each washroom cubicle, with a button the person could push to produce the sound of a flush. The company’s water bill plummeted.
When you have an opportunity, not a problem
Sometimes you are not facing a problem, but find yourself considering an opportunity, and you should be vigilant for such gems. If you think you have uncovered one, ask yourself: “Is this really a good opportunity?”.
Of course, if you suspect you have discovered a genuine opportunity for growth, the concept still needs to be passed through all of the other testing guidelines before you adopt it. That's the power of the testing guidelines - they help you unearth opportunities, and they validate whether things really are what they seem.
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