The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems
critical thinking - CEO Adventure Book

Military Grand Strategy for Business Leaders


My pet peeve is with management consultants and leadership coaches who regurgitate the K.I.S.S. principle at nauseam, advocating to keep things simple.

Simple sounds good―as opposed to complex, difficult, or hard. However, the solutions they propose for solving systemic problems tend to be unrealistically simple, or simplistic. The following quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, says it all: “All things should be made as simple as possible―but no simpler.”

It is rather simplistic to assume that a problem that developed over many years, within a complex business system, operating within a dynamic global economy could be fixed in the blink of an eye, on a shoe-string budget, with an off-the-shelf one-size-fits-all silver-bullet solution, without any executive involvement.

What makes me so sure of this assertion? For one, in order to create an appropriate solution, you need to know the root cause. When you fail to identify and eliminate―or at least reduce―the root cause you allow problems to linger, fester, and come back time and again. The medical world has the following to say about this approach to problem solving; Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice. Conducting a root cause analysis might not be simple but it sure is basic to solving systemic problems and to any proper change management practice.

Conducting a root cause analysis is basic because―in the words of Eckhart Tolle―“Once you understand the root of the dysfunction, you do not need to explore its countless manifestations.” In other words, many problems can be traced back to one and the same root cause. Hence, instead of trying to solve its countless manifestations individually―treatment of symptoms―you’d better diagnose the root dysfunction and then eliminate or reduce its influence on performance aspects such as productivity, profitability, operational effectiveness, and employee engagement.

It always amazes me when common sense solutions are such uncommon practices. You’d be hard pressed to even find a (leading) consulting firm that lists root cause analyses as one of its service offerings. Are people afraid to raise the idea that the business system might suffer from unnecessary friction and conflict due to a systemic problem?

Reducing Unnecessary Friction and Conflict

It is a myth that solutions for solving individual symptoms would be a “secret”. After all, there is no shortage of widely publicized and readily available solutions. However, similar symptoms can originate from a wide source of distinctly different root dysfunctions.

A solution only becomes an Authentic SolutionTM when it  1) eliminates, or at least significantly reduces the negative effect of a root dysfunction  2) when it re-aligns the business system with the purpose for which it was created and  3) when it complies with a grand strategy.

The late American military strategist, Col John R. Boyd USAF, formulated five Criteria for a Sensible Grand Strategy. He argued that any country should shape its domestic policies, foreign policies, and military strategies in pursuit of its goals in a way that a nation’s decisions and actions work to:

  • Strengthen its resolve and increase its political cohesion or solidarity;
  • Drain away the resolve of its adversaries and weaken their internal cohesion;
  • Reinforce the commitments of its allies to its cause and make them empathetic to its success;
  • Attract the uncommitted to its cause or makes them empathetic to its success;
  • End conflicts on favorable terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflicts.

These criteria should not be thought of as a checklist, but as being general guidelines for evaluating the wisdom of specific policies or actions.

Critical Thinking

Rather than prescribing a generic course of action for all systemic problems, or a specific course of action for every possible systemic problem―which is impossible―I want you to think of a single decision you took based on the forecast that it would generate the largest contribution to bottom line results in the shortest period of time. Got that decision?

Now measure that solution’s success or failure to satisfy Boyd’s five Criteria for a Sensible Grand Strategy. Any chance that it created discord among employees resulting in disengagement from their job and their boss/employer? Or, did it make you vulnerable to an attrition price war or a hostile take-over? What did the solution you chose do for your reputation in the court of public opinion? Are stakeholders still proud to be associated with you? How did you handle labor conflicts (employee pay and benefits), or disputes with local and federal authorities, or customer complaints and warranty claims?

Just look for a pattern, a chain of cause and effect relationships. That’s what it means to suffer from a systemic problem. And, if you believe it’s important to break that chain, you need to conduct root cause analyses, and I can guide you through this process of discovery.

As a result of this integral approach to problem solving―as opposed to trial-and-error―you’ll gain invaluable insights into the functioning of your business system as a singular, unique, integrated, and open system. Note that such insights will stimulate creativity and innovation.

Send me an email today to see when I have made time in my schedule to share this critical approach to problem solving with groups of maximum 16 people within San Diego County California.








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