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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 09-Feb-07


Friday 9-February-06

Chasing the causal chain

One of the great questions of the world is 'Why?' Children know this, although the early open 'why' somehow mutates into a more closed teenage 'why not??' before disappearing maybe forever into an unquestioningly conforming adult miasma.

My daughter as a young child would casually ask searching questions about why the world worked as it does. In her teens, she asked why others seemed so selfish and why she was not popular and why dressing individually seemed to be connected to this. She's rare in that she's re-learned to ask why and to listen openly. She challenges more now of course and does not accept 'because I say so' as an answer.

Although I have taken a varied path of learning, my original undergraduate education was in engineering where we were taught skills of analysis and logic. Asking 'why' is thus deeply embedded in the way I work. I am also am terminally curious, which regularly and alternately gets me into and out of trouble.

To properly solve problems, you have to address the underlying causes not just the symptoms, yet in the myopic urgency of many modern crises we not only seek a quick fix but never get around to addressing the root causes. In Japanese business improvement, they urge people to 'ask why five times', the principle being to dig down to the bedrock where effective solutions can be mined.

Although causes often go in sequential chains, they also go in circles that can lead to exponential growth, spirals of decay and repetitive patterns of oscillation. More chickens lead to more more eggs lead to more chickens. Causal circles also lead to rebalancing. More chickens leads to overcrowding which leads to fighting, disease and death.

'Why' when applied to others and oneself is scary, confusing, exciting and illuminating. If I can know something of why we do what we do, then I can decide how to respond more effectively by addressing root causes and breaking vicious circles. And perhaps I can forgive others and live more at ease with myself.

Small word. Big power!

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