Identify the Root Cause

"If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem it is impossible to solve it."

Naoto Kan

     You have this annoying pain in your knee that will not go away.  You’ve felt it before but it doesn’t make it any more likeable. You have been working out lately and this knee pain is not helping that effort in any way.  You decide to go to the doctor to get checked out just to be safe and also to see if there’s anything that can be done to help.  You don’t want to stop exercising because you are finally starting to see some results from your efforts.  As normal your doctor takes a look at your knee and gives you his/her expert opinion on what is causing the pain in your knee.  Luckily it is not a debilitating disease.  Your doctor prescribes you a prescription for pain and prints out some exercises you can do to build the muscle around your knee to help reduce the pain.  You leave the office happy that you have received some help and look forward to getting better.

Running is not Rocket Science

       Fast forward 6 to 9 months later.  Your knee is hurting again.  You did everything the doctor instructed and you felt better.  Yet the problem returned.  The reason the problem returned is the doctor treated the symptoms but did not eliminate the root cause.  You are lucky though.  You are always on the lookout to learn more and recently you ran across an article on barefoot running shoes.  This article intrigued you and you continued to learn more.  You have been wearing stability shoes based off of a test you took at your gym and you realize as those shoes begin to wear down your knee begins to hurt again.  According to the article when you run in barefoot running (also known as minimalist) shoes your body is forced to align with your natural running gate.  Your body is a wonderful creation and naturally it tries to avoid harming itself.  Therefore when you run naturally your body will align your stance properly to reduce the impact on your knees as you run.  This reduced impact will keep your knees from hurting.  You have just found the root cause as to why your knee was hurting in the first place.  It was the impact from the running.  By reducing the impact of running you can continue using it as a tool in your arsenal of exercises to keep you in shape. You decide to buy the shoes and it works. You successfully reduced the impact and the knee pain subsides and doesn’t return. Your problem is solved.

     Root cause analysis is the foundation of all improvement.  This is true both in your personal life and in your business processes.  When you focus your efforts on eliminating the root causes you can feel confident that you can actually keep the problem from reoccurring. Some of you are very familiar with this topic as it relates to business.  The craze of process improvement in the 90’s and 2000’s most likely had you sitting in a conference room doing a fishbone diagram about a problem at work. In the exercise of creating a fishbone diagram you list the problem and then list the contributing factors that may have caused the problem. 

Don’t Be Late for Work

     Let’s use the simple problem of being late for work several times a month. The contributing factors could have been traffic accidents, your vehicle breaking down, you oversleeping, etc.  To help find the root cause the team would ask why 5 times about each contributing factor and then list out all the answers.  Based on those answers you look for patterns that helped you identify the root causes of the problem. Root causes were identified by any answer that was repeated in multiple contributing factors of the initial problem. As an example your vehicle could be breaking down because you haven’t been doing the proper maintenance on it.  You haven’t been doing the proper maintenance because you can’t fit it into your busy schedule.  You can’t fit it into your schedule because something unscheduled is always coming up that disrupts you from doing what you planned to do at that time.  Therefore you end up running out of time to get it all done.  This is the same reason you don’t go to bed at the appropriate time to insure you get the rest you need to not oversleep.  Now you know one of the root causes and can now focus in on improving it.  To reduce or eliminate this root cause you must develop a process that minimizes unscheduled tasks disrupting your schedule.  You do this by scheduling the most important work and sticking to that schedule. When interrupted by someone needing help with a crisis, you tell that person to schedule some time with you instead of dropping everything to fix it. Focus on the most important (scheduled) tasks including sleep and car maintenance. You will find that many of those “crisis events” will work themselves out and weren’t as much of a crisis after all. By sticking to your schedule you will end up doing more of the things done then you did before. This will go a long way in preventing the original problem from occurring again.  If you need some help on this topic research Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity.

Stop Doubting Yourself

     You can do this same exercise when it comes to your personal life as well.  In order for this to work you must first identify a problem.  There is no need to be bashful when doing so.  Having problems is a common condition along the journey called life.  Once you take full responsibility for the outcomes of your life you will be more adept at identifying the problems related with some of those not so desirable outcomes.  If you do have difficulty identifying problems you may be lucky enough to have someone tell you the blunt truth.  That person may bluntly tell you that you are holding yourself back when it comes to your own success.  This is a problem.  By holding yourself back you are limiting the value you bring to your job, your family, your community and ultimately to yourself.  Yet what is the root cause to this problem?  You are a unique individual and therefore you will have unique causes.  Your job is to identify those causes and get to work on improving them.  

    However in the problem of holding ourselves back, we all share common contributing factors.  The most common of those contributing factor is belief.  Your beliefs are the foundation of who you are and the results that you ultimately achieve.  If you are holding yourself back you must first identify what are your beliefs.  Then you need to ask yourself why you believe that.  You will have to be honest with yourself.  That is a key to this being a successful exercise.  For example you may aspire to be the Director of Innovation for a successful company. Yet you are holding yourself back. If you are honest some of your beliefs will be:

  • I am not qualified
  • I don’t think I’m ready
  • It could be too much for me to handle
  • I am not on the same level as others who could get the role

This list could go on and on. When you look at all of those beliefs you will be able to sum them up into one root cause. You have a lot of self-doubt. If you can remove that self-doubt you can remove the problem of holding yourself back. When you don’t have self-doubt you will not be afraid to take massive action. When you don’t have self-doubt you will be happy to network and let the world know what you want. When you don’t have self-doubt you will look for opportunity in places you may have avoided in the past. In order to solve your problem you have to remove your self-doubt. You will have to determine the best course of action to take to remove self-doubt. You may need more education. You may need to create more experiencing directing innovation without actually having the title to give you more examples of your ability to do the role. You may need to hire a coach to help you identify when you have self-doubt and how to address it every time. There is no one size fits all for removing self-doubt. However the only way to remove it is to take action against it. You are a smart individual. You will find a way.

     These are just some examples of how important it is to find root cause if you really want to address your problems.  Yes you have problems.  We all do.  It is a part of life.  We also have the opportunity to improve and/or eliminate those problems.  Symptoms will alert you there is a problem yet, if you just take care of the symptoms the problem will always return.  Instead find the root causes and eliminate them one by one.  This will lead to true success.  It may seem like you are taking longer to take action towards the specific problem but in the long run you will get better results.  Identify the problem, determine the contributing factors and then ask why several times for each factor.  The answer to the why will lead you to the root causes.  From there you take action.  That is it.  You are well on your way to success.  As always I wish you the best and remind you to enjoy the journey.

With Gratitude,


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