March 21, 2012 | Mark Paradies

Root Cause Tip: Do Definitions Matter?

Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, was taking a walk when he met a young, impressionable man named Phaedrus.  Phaedrus explained that he had just heard the greatest speech of all time.  He explained that the famous orator, Lysias, had just given a talk about love.  Lysias had convinced Phaedrus, by his oratorical ability, that casual love was superior to committed love.  Socrates thought for a minute and then asked Phaedrus:

What does Lysias mean by love?

Phaedrus couldn’t answer.  Why?  Lysias never defined the central theme of his talk.  Socrates had thus pointed out a speaker’s trick.  If a speaker doesn’t supply a definition, the audience will.  And if the audience likes the speaker, they will usually supply definitions that make the speech mean whatever they want to hear.  Many “listeners” never examine the meaning of statements – they just assume definitions that make the speech agree with their thinking.

What does this have to do with root cause analysis?

First, investigators must closely examine the verbal information given them by witnesses.  They should not insert their own beliefs into the witness statements to make the statements be what they want to hear.

Second, investigators should be able to accurately define the root causes they identify (or those identified by others).  In the TapRooT® System, there is no excuse for loose definitions.  TapRooT® defines every root cause in the Root Cause Tree® Dictionary.

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