One of the other recurring themes on the forum has been just what is the definition of “root cause.” Probably one of the major early insights that came out of the multi-logue is that “A root cause is often people thinking there is a root cause.” In other words, there is EXTREMELY RARELY, really NEVER, a single root cause. For any event that happens, there are always multiple factors. There are not only multiple factors, but there are multiple CLASSES of factors. There are human factors, physical factors, economic factors, etc. Yet, the bankrupt idea of “A root cause” is still prevalent in our society. Bill Corcoran started a list of definitions of “root cause.” A certain Bill W. provided Definition 39:


"...when someone speaks of "the root cause," what they mean is "the one thing I can fix that, with the least pain or hassle, will keep this problem from happening again in the near future ... at least until the time when a recurrence will be viewed by stakeholders as a separate event, unrelated to the first."


For back-up to the idea of having so many definitions, Bill Corcoran left us with:


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6, Lewis Carroll)


It seems pretty amazing that there could be 39 definitions of root cause, but maybe we can understand that each type of culture needs its own definition or group of definitions.


Editor’s note:  Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass is getting a lot of play here at Industrial Heating recently. For more, check out Dan Herring’s last two “The Heat Treat Doctor” columns (Sept. & Oct. 2012).