Sakichi Toyoda (Toyota) is credited with the introduction of root cause analysis (RCA).  Included in his many works he also is know for principals associated with lean manufacturing, the development of weaving devices and not the least of which RCA.  For  years I have used, adopted and applied RCA to which another famous Japanese, Kaoru Ishikawa gave use the tools (aka Fish Bone or Ishikawa diagramming) to help us trace back the series of events leading up to a particular incident and event.

Let me assure you, this is not going to be a discussion about how to perform RCA or utilize this effective diagramming technique.  This is about thinking even further beyond the systemic root causes that has precipitated an important event.  While these events are often of a catastrophic nature they do not have to be.  It can be about any situation that has departed from what we had expected and that commands immediate, diligent attention. For companies, and the advisers that they may use, the journey of event to root cause is often quite straight forward and solutions can become abundant.   But the question that I wish to explore is whether these solutions are durable and whether they actually address a much deeper and broader problem that exists prior to the root cause.

Today a friend of mine posted a piece, albeit of a lighthearted and amusing nature, about the interaction between a young person and an old woman.  The young person was quick to blame the old person for everything that was wrong in the world from issues ranging from ecology to technology.  The excerpt is as follows,

Being Green
Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t 

good for the environment.
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”
The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment f or future generations.”   She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.  Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled.  But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.  Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings.  Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.  But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.  But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.  Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.  But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.  Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.  But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.  We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.  But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.  But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
This gave rise to an expansion on the concept of RCA that even before the root cause there are conditions that exist that have far more reaching long term risk potential.  Every action that we take will have consequences and while we may operate safely, achieve goals and build a business enterprise there is lurking in the shadows real and formidable risk.  There is not one failure, fault or event that has taken place that doesn’t have these pre-root cause conditions in play.  The trouble is that we may,
  1. be ignoring them because we believe that we can take on and accept the risk or that the likelihood is such that it won’t happen within our time of control,
  2. not have the capability to think beyond the elements of present business or current practices.  It really requires us to dig deep into all of the things that can go wrong, what players are contributors to a change in our organization, and
  3. to a large extent reflecting on the level of innovation that is in play which may or may not be the subject of potential leadership advantage.

Innovation in most every case, whether in terms of product or of service, is a market differentiation point.  It is cannot be taught and must be conceived through some pretty unorthodox means, some by chance, other by solutioning and all the while advancing the business into the unknown.   I say I am the son of Sakichi Toyoda, not because I am but because I have taken his ground breaking ideas (no longer theory but applied practice) and gone the next step and looked at where it all begins.   It all begins not just with the engineering that lead up to the problem under RCA review.  It starts with the foundations of why we are in business and how it will have an impact on society and the world.  We might find ourselves in a place of paralysis and decide to only follow the safe route, and this is not what I’m advocating.  I’m advocating to walk boldly, proudly and decisively forward but with knowledge on your side and not blind ignorance or reckless abandonment.   You can make a difference if you command a business in total control of its existence and not be centered on only the day to day matters.