I, The Absolute

Cause-Effect Approach

Posted by itheabsolute on September 1, 2005

Plato invented dialectics. Just by questioning – mostly starting with Whys – he and his disciples reached, at least thought they reached, the truth.

Much later, a Japanese management thinker, Ishikawa, created a cause-effect approach / diagram to know the root cause of a problem. An example of this is –


Q. Why do you say that the car that we manufactured does not like strawberry ice cream
A. Because whenever I buy a strawberry ice cream, the car would not start

Q. Why only strawberry ice-cream
A. Every time I go to a shop to buy ice cream I buy either a vanilla ice cream or a strawberry ice cream. Whenever I buy vanilla ice cream, the car starts. But whenever I buy strawberry, the car would not start

Q. Why do you think these two are related
A. Because, other than the type of ice cream, I do not see any other variable operating which can cause the car not to start

Q. From where do you buy the ice cream
A. XYZ shop

Q. When do you go to buy ice cream
A. During nights

Q. Are both the ice creams bought at the same place
A. Yes, usually

Q. Usually? But is there any other factor that you think is different between buying these two ice-creams
A. Yes, there is one. The vanilla ice cream is given to me from the freezer which is near the door of the shop. Strawberry ice cream is usually stored in the store-room from where it is brought and given to me

Q. Do you think there is good enough time difference
A. Not much. Maybe, five minutes

Q. Do you think there is any other difference
A. The prices of these ice creams are different

Q. Okay, any other
A. No

A. Then it appears that if the car is stopped for more than five minutes, which is the case when you buy a strawberry ice cream, the car does not start.

Here the complainant started with a unusual remark about a car, which remark almost appeared stupid. But on further probing led the car manufacturer to identify a minor but an narking defect in the car. If the complaint was ignored, the car manufacturer would have paid a dear price in loss of sales.

In fact, Ishikawa thinks that only five questions can do the trick and lead one to the right answer.

Generalizing, Life does not give easy clues always. It needs effort and patience to find out the right correlation/association(cause-effect) so that we arrive at right conclusions, which further lead us to right, hopefully gratifying, solutions.

I think this approach has a great application in life. Try and apply to ‘what do I want to become in life’, what gives me happiness’, ‘what matters to me most’ ‘why MBA’, etc type of questions

PS: The above incident happened with a US car manufacturer.

11 Responses to “Cause-Effect Approach”

  1. hi bill

    thanks for dropping by. u really made good points. surely will ponder over them.


  2. hi anon.

    thanks. i am kannadiga by origin but born and brought up in Andhra.


  3. Hi Vijay,

    I just happened to find your blog by searching for “root cause” on Feedster. I like your introductory example on this technique, which is quite useful. I employ it quite often, although I would like to note that there is nothing magic about questioning 5 times. I believe the key is to keep going until you get to something important, or fundamental, to the problem in question.

    You might like to try adding to this technique for particularly difficult issues that may have multiple causes. Once you’ve finished your initial line of questioning, go back to the first question and ask some other questions.

    1) Is anything additional required for this cause to lead to the stated effect?

    2) Can anything else lead to the stated effect?

    3) What proof do I have that the cause I have stated actually exists, and actually leads to this effect?

    The point of these questions is to establish necessity, sufficiency, and existence. Keep asking these three questions for every cause, at every level of questioning. If you diagram all this, you will end up with a tree of causal factors leading up to the original problem. Some may be less important than others, but you will have at least avoided the “straight-line-thinking” trap.


    Bill Wilson
    Common Blogarithms

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