The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems

Something Practical Please . . . !

When invited to speak to an executive coaching group, the chair impressed upon me the need to deliver “Take-Home Value”―something that participants can apply immediately upon their return to their desks.

I interpreted that request as a demand for prescribing a specific action, something to DO as opposed to something to THINK, to ponder, or to make your own.


Think About That for a While

Executives join these membership organizations because they feel challenged by a business system’s complexity and the unfolding events that disrupt system integrity. Complexity and events raise puzzling questions and they look to their peers for answers.

However, expecting to be prescribed a solution of real value assumes incorrectly that everyone already knows the challenge’s root-cause(s). And, in order for that solution to be of value to every member, it must be assumed too that everyone suffers from the effects of the same root-cause(s). But, the mere fact that members experience similar effects does not imply those effects originate from the same root-cause(s).

Whereas I may be overthinking the idea of take-home value, I believe many colleagues are over-simplifying business challenges. It just irks me to hear advisers exclaim ”Simple, Simple, Simple”, when all they do is painting a picture that is overly simplistic―unrealistically simple. In such a conveniently simplistic view, they confuse means and ends, and they use the terms “problem” and “symptom” or “effect” interchangeably. The fact that practically no one shows any interest in diagnosing root causes borders on negligence.


Basic Knowledge

This is what I know: “Once you understand the root of the dysfunction, you no longer need to explore its countless manifestations[i]”. In other words, different unintended and unwanted effects can be the result of one and the same root cause. Alternatively, a specific unintended and unwanted effect can be the manifestation of different dysfunctions or root causes. These cause and effect relationships underscore the urgent need for conducting root cause analyses before deciding on a solution. Hence the expression “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice”.

I also know that ninety-four percent of all results―which encompasses (un)intended and (un)wanted results―are systemic in nature. That means, these results are inherent to a system’s design, organization/structure, implementation/operation, maintenance, and management.

I learned that a problem is a discrepancy between a business system’s desired state and its current state. Furthermore, I know from experience that few executives know what their business system is actually doing in real-time or even what its capability and capacity are. In addition, it is rare to find consensus among executives regarding their system’s desired state. Then, what IS the problem?

As a matter of fact, an IBM Global Chief Executive Officer Study revealed that a majority of respondents admit to being confused by system complexity, let alone by unfolding, new, and unexpected events that disrupt daily business operations. Now, THAT is a problem! Why, you may ask. Because the business system’s design, organization/structure, implementation/operation, maintenance, and management are unique executive responsibilities, and you cannot provide successful leadership to a system you don’t understand.


How Practical Is This?

Evidently, there is no such thing as a secret, generic, one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet solution. But, there are universal methods to identify and quantify problems, in order to discover their root cause(s). And, there are universal models to create, organize/structure, and implement authentic solutionsTM. These methods and models are practical as they are simple, yet they are not always easy; they require a lot of thinking before there can be talk of any doing.

Know that systems are intentional, which means they follow the law of cause and effect. Thinking is the cause and business results are the effect. Therefore, the greatest power to change a business’ performance is the power to change our own mind regarding the right principles to govern a business system. This approach to problem solving is not difficult but different. What is difficult is getting over our resistance to changing our beliefs about the validity and veracity of economic principles.

So, what could be more practical than applying simple methods and models that are suitable for conducting any change initiative? Or, would you rather memorize countless prescriptions to countless possible manifestations of countless possible dysfunctions, and still be in doubt whether you eliminated the root cause or not?

Dr. Albert Einstein said: “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not one bit simpler”. And, no matter how simple a method or model is, you’ll have to do the thinking yourself!


[i] From The Power of Now, a book by Eckhart Tolle








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