Advertising
Advertising

7 Incredible Techniques to Easily Solve the Root of Any Problem

7 Incredible Techniques to Easily Solve the Root of Any Problem

Do you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over? Have some of your poor choices morphed into bad habits? All of us can probably agree that there are things we’d like to change about our actions or circumstances.

Maybe you keep getting drawn into bad relationships, or you can’t stop binge-eating cupcakes, or you are never on time. Perhaps your car breaks down every week, or you always get into arguments with your in-laws. Regardless of what problem you face, there are many ways to reach a solution.

Our problems tend to stick around when we treat the symptoms rather than eliminate their causes. Our knee-jerk response to whatever troubles us may provide temporary relief, but the problem will continue to manifest itself unless we can identify the root.

Get to the heart of your problem, always.

Reactivity is the enemy of a calm and happy existence. Instead of developing sustainable strategies to address your problems, reactivity forces you to spend your days putting out fires. To solve problems, you will need to be proactive.

Performing causal analysis or root cause analysis can help you identify the root of your problems so that you can eliminate the issue for good.[1] Causal analysis can help you anticipate future problems, eliminate current issues, and develop an action-plan to resolve trouble.[2]

When you perform root cause analysis, you can differentiate between correlation and causation. We most often think of using this type of analysis to understand current or past problems, but hypothetical causal analysis enables you to predict outcomes before you commit to an action.[3]

Advertising

Seven tried-and-true techniques for solving any problem

Employing one of these causal analysis techniques can help you find a sustainable solution.

1. 5 Whys Analysis

One of the simplest causal analysis methods involves asking yourself “why” five times.[4] You start by identifying the problem. “My house is always disorganized.” Then, you ask yourself why that is the case. You create a chain of inquiry that offers insight about the core of the problem. Find out how to do a good 5 Whys analysis here.

2. Pareto Analysis

This is sometimes referred to as the “80/20 Rule.” The idea here is that 20% of your actions cause 80% of the results.[5]

Usually, when you are having a problem, there are a few major contributors, referred to as the “vital few.” Then there are the “trivial many,” smaller problems which can deepen the effects of a poor habit or problematic mindset.

Many people go after one of the “trivial many” instead of focusing on the “vital few” causes that are creating the most trouble.

Advertising

    As you can see from the diagram, the x-axis contains contributing factors for tardiness. The left y-axis represents the number of instances in which the lateness occurs. The right y-axis shows you how the number of instances stacks up against the percentage of the total problem. The orange line is the cumulative percentage of the problems that contribute to lateness overall. As you can see, traffic, child care, and public transportation were the major contributors to tardiness. If you wanted to improve your punctuality, you should focus on traffic, child care, and public transportation issues because they are the most common causes for lateness.

    While this method appears complicated, there are many software templates available to you to facilitate this type of visualization.

    3. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

    This multi-step causal analysis can illustrate the root of your problem, but it is also an effective way to anticipate difficulties when you are trying something new.[6]

    1. Begin by ascertaining the problem (real or anticipated).
    2. Then, name all the things that are contributing to the failure.
    3. Ask yourself how often the failure is occurring.
    4. List the actions you have taken to ensure that the failure does not recur.
    5. Analyze whether those solutions worked for you.

    You can revisit this line of inquiry at any time, but it is especially valuable after you restructure a procedure or policy.

    4. Fault Tree Analysis

    This visual model for ascertaining the root of problems is best employed where matters of safety are concerned. While Boolean algebra can make this model more robust, at its most basic level, you begin this analysis by naming the problem. Below the problem, you create boxes which contain factors contributing to the undesired outcome. Unlike other models, which encourage you to think about broad potential contributors, fault tree analysis requires that you look at what is known and deduce meaning from that.[7]

    5. Current Reality Tree (CRT)

    When you are dealing with a number of problems at the same time, the CRT can be an effective way to understand what the problems are and what connections exist between them.

    Advertising

    For example, you may have noticed that your boss is mad at you all the time, you are late on a frequent basis, and you are often too fatigued to work.

    1. Place each of these undesirable effects, your angry boss, tardiness, and fatigue, into their own box at the bottom of your tree.
    2. Brainstorm the possible causes for each of these problems independently, and place each cause in its own box as a “branch” sprouting from the tree.
    3. Take time to analyze each of the problems that you listed in connection to one another as “If…then” statements. “If my boss is angry with me, then is it related to my frequent tardiness.”
    4. Connect ideas in your CRT with arrows.

    Eventually you will notice common threads between the undesirable effects.[8]

    6. RPR (Rapid Problem Resolution) Diagnosis

    This type of causal analysis involves three main steps.

    1. In the discovery phase, you collect information to ascertain problems.
    2. During the investigation phase, you create a plan based off the data that you have collected.
    3. Finally, you set your plan in motion.

    If you choose to use this type of causal analysis, you should periodically check in to ensure that you properly identified the problem and your solution is working as intended.[9]

    7. Cause-and-Effect Diagram or “Fishbone” Diagram

    This means of visualizing a problem is useful whether you are working on your own or with a team.[10]

    As with other models, you start by identifying your problem. One horizontal line, cuts through the center of your diagram like the spine of a fish, hence the name. Several diagonal lines radiate from the spine.

    Advertising

    At the top of each of these lines, write the type of cause that contributes to the problem. For example, if your problem is that you are frequently unhappy, categories of causes that contribute to your problem could be family, work, and health. Ask yourself why each of these categories feeds into your problem. These are the causes for your symptoms. A symptom of your unhappiness rooted in your family might be that you feel disconnected from your partner. Brainstorm as many causes in the categories as you can.

    After you finish your diagram, you will have a better sense of where your problem originates. You may notice that some categories have more causes that contribute to the undesired symptom than others. You can also think about how these categories are connected. Rather than trying to chop the head off the hydra, you can develop of systematic plan that deals with the issue at its core.

      Which method should you try?

      There are a plethora of causal analysis options with varying levels of complexity. If you have lots of data about your problem, Pareto analysis and fault-tree analysis, are great options. All the models are fairly flexible to accommodate a wide range of problems, though some were developed specifically for business or IT. The common thread in all of these methods is that they require self-reflection and a chain of inquiry.

      Next time you feel like you are spending more time putting out fires than living your life, give one or more of these causal analyses a try. You’d be amazed at how effective your problem-solving will be when you can get to the heart of the issue.

      Reference

      [1] Bright Hub Project Management: Overviews of different root cause analysis methods
      [2] Quality Assurance: Causal Analysis Guidelines
      [3] LinkedIn: Causal Analysis
      [4] iSixSigma: Determine the Root Cause: 5 Whys
      [5] Project Smart: Pareto Analysis Step by Step
      [6] ASQ: Failure Mode Effects Analysis
      [7] Clifton Ericson: Fault Tree Analysis
      [8] CIRAS: Building a Current Reality Tree
      [9] MBA Brief: Rapid Problem Resolution
      [10] ASQ: Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram

      More by this author

      Angelina Phebus

      Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

      Foods That Can Suppress Appetite And Help With Weight Loss Quality or Quantity? Why Don’t You Sleep On It What it Feels Like To Be The Child of Your Children? Pick Your Job Based On What You Love To Do, Not How Much You Have Invested In. How to Become Successful 10 Times Easier: Don’t Focus on Improving Your Faults

      Trending in Productivity

      1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 3 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 4 How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity 5 15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising
      Advertising

      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

      Advertising

      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

      Advertising

      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

      Advertising

      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

      Advertising

      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

      Read Next