Back in the old days, I thought I knew what root-cause analysis was. But then I ended up getting involved with the Yahoo Groups Root Cause Forum.

Back in the old days – like 20 years ago – I thought I knew what root-cause analysis was. But then I ended up getting involved with the Yahoo Groups Root Cause Forum.  

Many topics have been discussed over the years, and human factors are the mainstay of this group. One of the threads on this forum was started with a question by long-time member Bill Salot, who posted the following quote from a Taoist master:  

“Rewards and punishment are the lowest form of education" – Chuang-tzu, Chinese writer (c.369-286 B.C.)”  

Bill Salot then asked the forum members, “What is the highest form of education?” Bill was so kind as to summarize the responses, and he concluded:             

1. Tony F. suggested that the highest form of education is empowerment “through word and example.” I like that because it paints a picture of an effective teacher.
2. Ted A. suggested “learning from experience.” I like that because it emphasizes a linkage between learning and experience. Experience without learning does not result in education at all.
3. But Bill Corcoran pointed out that “learning from experience” is nothing more than learning from rewards or punishments. He instead suggested the highest form of education consists of good “role models.” I like that for the reason stated in Item 1.
4. James suggested “praise and gratitude” are a higher form of education than “rewards and punishment.” But it seems to me that “praise and gratitude” are nothing more than “rewards.”
5. Brenda N. voted for “experience.” See Items 2 and 3.
6. Bob Nelms agreed with “experience” but focused specifically on “failures,” which he later equated to “pain.” It seems to me that “failures” and “pain” are nothing more than “punishments.”
7. Doug Emberley agreed with “experience,” but added “willingness and desire to learn.” I like the latter because it introduces the role of the person being educated.
8. Bill Corcoran condensed “willingness and desire to learn” down to “reflection.” I like that for the reason stated in Item 7.
9. Mike Mulligan made the point that sometimes you can’t tell the difference between rewards and punishment. Debbie Aliya agreed and called them both simply “feedback.” It seems to me that makes “feedback” equivalent to the ancient Chinese lowest form of education.
10. A discussion then broke out over the importance of looking at ourselves. Bob Nelms, Debbie Aliya, Brenda N. and Tore Skoglund participated. It seems to me that they agreed that such introspection is an important part of our education. That conclusion is consistent with Items 7 and 8.  

All of this leads me to two personal conclusions:
A. The ancient Chinese saying about the lowest form of education is still correct.
B. The highest form of education is a good teacher and a good student in combination.

Thank you for the enlightenment, Bill Salot.

One of the things I liked about this thread was that education is certainly a very strong factor in how we end up being able to view the world. If we are educated in a certain way from a young age, it can be very difficult to learn to think in new ways later on. There will always be people who think that they can address every situation according to a predetermined set of rules or guidelines. If we don’t have an education that allows us to understand that the majority of situations are new in some way, even if similar to past events, then we’ll never be able to see that rules can’t possibly cover every situation. Sometimes we just have to figure it out for ourselves by allowing ourselves the time to reflect.  

Note that all of the past postings are available on the Yahoo archive. You must be a member to have access. Membership is open, and new members are asked to state what they hope to gain from participation and are introduced to the forum. The people who are listed with last names are those who gave permission. I did not have a chance to ask all the participants if they wanted their full names used, so their last initials were substituted.