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Root Cause Analysis

One of the more enjoyable aspects of my teaching practice involves guiding students through the process of problem-solving. In particular, I'm the hard-ass (a quote from a former student) who demands that teams dig all the way down, sort out symptoms from actual causes, to define, in a single sentence, the actual problem that they are attempting to solve. The word "solution" is tossed around technology circles in a manner distinctly out of proportion with the word "problem". Without understanding the exact nature of the problem, most attempts at "solutions" are less than likely to succeed – a waste of resources, in my opinion. Problem-definition is a tedious and frustrating exercise, especially in a cross-cultural, cross-functional team environment. The reason I love teaching it is that when the light bulbs go on, and the analytical rigour pays off, each successful student has a tool they can apply to their own lives in any circumstance, to their workplace, to their relationships to an extent … even to themselves if they choose to go there.

As you can imagine, my students, the ones who actually show up, like me a whole lot better at the after-party than they do prior to the final exams.

I think it is telling that the student who called me a hard-ass did so over ice cream a few weeks after she graduated. She was looking for some guidance in finding employment and she seemed to know I'd be ok with this descriptor. She was right. Not so much of a hard-ass that I couldn't be approached to join her for ice cream, I guess. Apparently, I was also called "The Time-Keeper" which strikes me as being kind of benign, really, as name-calling goes.  I gather this is in reference to my penchant for giving teams specific lengths of time in which to complete tasks. "OK – here is this three paragraph case – each team has 15 minutes to read through, discuss, and respond to the two questions below … GO!"  Yeah, my classes sometimes have a sort of boot-camp-esque quality to them. At least I don't ask any student to "give me 20" if they don't complete the tasks on time. Honest.

Nonetheless, imagine my joy when I find that one of my key clients wants me to add a service level clause to an agreement that I am working on demanding that an external organization follow a recognized root cause analysis process when approaching problems. Rapture!

Recently, I've been hoist by my own petard on this issue of root cause analysis. Here is generic version of a conversation I have about three times a week:

Kind, Interested Person: So … what is the single biggest factor that has resulted in your successful weight loss?

Me: Well, I think the single most important thing I had to do was decide I was ready, that I really wanted it. After I really made that commitment, it was just a matter of finding the right "program" that would work for me.

So far, so good, right?

As I've thought about this, I realize I've been lying all this time. (Sorry.) For me, there is a deeper root cause than the decision and the commitment. Good critical analysis methodology will lead the questioner to ask "why" until there is an endpoint.

Why was I ready … what drives the commitment, the decision?

The flip response to this is that I'm doing it simply because I can. Not to prove that I can … but because I'm coming to a place in my life in which I am starting to banish my ghosts and fully appreciate what I'm capable of. This is roughly the same driver/motivator that got me into, through, and successfully out of, the MBA. I knew I could do it, so therefore I had to.

I'm so very incredibly lucky. I have a healthy body, cancer-free (so far), and otherwise disease-free. My mind is clear and strong. Physically, and in so many other ways, all the parts work. I fire on all cylinders, so to speak. I have a roof over my head, access excellent quality food, and an ability to prepare it properly. I get to drink clean water, right out of my tap if I like. I'm blessed in so many other ways … I have a lifetime of complex experiences that I've tried to learn from. I have had an excellent formal education. I have the pure, unadulterated luxury of time to enjoy excellent music that moves my mind and my heart, to indulge in culture, friends, extended family, lovers … I think of people who would give their right arm to have been granted the life I live right now. If I don't stretch myself, pour myself into my life fully, I feel as though I'm squandering this amazing opportunity, this outrageously blessed life I've been given to live.  If I am going to pour myself into my life, fully, I need to stay healthy, in all respects. To do otherwise feels vaguely irresponsible and wasteful.

There is another piece to the "because I can" motivator.  

We are, some of us, trained to disrespect ourselves, to de-value so many aspects of our lives, not believing our actions to be significant, important or impactful in any way. Like so many people, I received really mixed messages as a child. I was told by my mother that I could do anything, anything at all that I put my mind to. I would then be informed, forcefully, by my much older brothers, whom I worshiped and whose love and approval I sought constantly, that everything I did was worthless and unimportant. I fight this internal battle between these two competing forces all the time.  I will take some important step or reach some achievement, personally, professionally or spiritually, enjoy a moment of satisfaction – or, more often than not, eye-brow raising surprise – and then immediately dismiss it as being irrelevant. It is how I'm programmed. This makes it extremely difficult to really find satisfaction in the things that others, looking in from the outside, view as "successes".

I sense that I'm not alone in this kind of programming.

Henry Ford reportedly said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right." Depending on where one places one's locus of control, this can either read as inspiring or threatening.  I've seen it both ways at different times in my life but, at the moment, I see a third element that I've missed until now. The actor/thinker grants themselves (or is granted) a great deal of power to decide, either way. So, I'm developing my own version of this philosophy. It goes something like this: If I think something is important and worthwhile, or if I think it isn't, I am right. No one else can decide this for me.

There are a series of things I'm trying to put in place in my life that will help me keep moving forward in a positive way. These things feel "important". Weight loss is only one of them, but it does seem to be the most visible. The point is, I get to choose the belief system that will support this part of my journey, and I'm choosing to believe that I can do this, and that it is important.

Some days, my self-talk veers dangerously close to some kind of mutant lesbian feminist Tony Robbins which can be a bit startling, especially as a visual. Thank goodness that, with the exception of this particular posting, I'm the only one who hears it.

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