Learning Complexity – Leadership Series .. 2

Root cause analysis
Root cause analysis

Fair to say I love Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and I deeply hate RCA.

That doesn’t look very helpful or fair enough. Isn’t it?

I shall try to explain my love and my concern..

For a simple and complicated systems RCA is rather helpful. No doubt about it.

But for Complex Systems RCA is a complete disaster.

I try explaining this but people seem to have a hard time getting it. They keep trying to apply RCA to all sorts of applications such as a) Project Management b) Equipment Failures in industries c) Human-Machine interfaces and a host of other things..

The funny thing is they consistently fail to explain why something happens in a complex system through RCA but then they consistently keep trying to apply the famous Why-Why…technique till they “ungorgeously” drop dead.

And why not?

I suspect we internally feel very insecure if we fail to find the cause or predict an outcome with any degree of accuracy when something either goes wrong or goes for a booming success. Otherwise we seem to feel insulted. Our intellect is insulted. Our imagined self esteem gets a shock of its life. Our education, training and mastery over many subjects are questioned…..

So why does RCA which works so well for simple and complicated systems miserably fail when dealing with complex systems or for that matter complex adaptive systems?

The distinction is deceptively simple —

1) For simple and complicated systems — events that happen are due to resultants.

2) For complex systems — events that happen are due to emergence

And there is a gulf of difference between resultant and emergence. Resultants lead to specific outcomes. Whereas Emergent events are simply depictions of the varied outcomes that might arise from a set of interactions. How? In a complex system change in quantity of any parameter within a set of interactions changes the emergent behavior of the system.

Therefore, for simple and complicated systems we ask ‘Why‘. That is we predict the outcome as accurately as possible. Perfectly simple.

But for a complex system we ask ‘How might this happen?’ In this case we anticipate or foresee possible outcomes (in the short term only). We must have patience and courage to Explain. Might go wrong at times. Perfectly simple too.

So I become cautious and worried whenever I hear anything close to these:–

a) Ah! Here is the root cause of….

b) This is a simple case of human neglect…

c) Oh! This is a plain case of lubrication failure…

d) Fatigue is the reason for this failure…

e) The supplier was at fault for…

f) We don’t know how to manufacture or operate or construct…..

This is because more than 90% of events that keep happening around us are neither simple nor complicated. They are complex.

Do you share my caution or worry?

Want to read more on this?

Here are some related articles-

 

Acknowledgement:

The cartoon is taken from Facebook page: Life is a Bitch: http://tinyurl.com/c3ftxao

Note: This is a part of the course on Rapidinnovation: https://rgbwaves.wordpress.com/offer/

Learning Complexity — Leadership Series – 1

Here is one of many toys I use in my classes on Leadership in Complexity to demonstrate complexity through play. It is a simple and common toy – a double pendulum. It is interesting to see how interactions between few elements really produce complexity. So, the question that I ask at the beginning of a session – ‘Can we predict what is going to happen?

We have made a video demonstration of it. It is about 5 mins. Hope you would find it engaging. You may choose to skip it if you like. I suggest a try. While you are viewing it mentally start predicting what might happen the next instant…

Predicting Complexity? ( <– click on the adjoining link to view the video)

What do you find?

Is complexity predictable or not?

On the face of it it appears that it isn’t predictable at all. The movements of the loose limbs of the double pendulum simply go crazy. It is not or nearly not possible to predict. Every time we think something like this might happen it usually turns out to be something else. It appears that there are no definite patterns about it. It is too random to make sense. No doubt this is what always happens in complex adaptive systems.

But then I show how complexity can be predicted along with many of its principles.

At first it feels rather strange to realize how all complex systems or complex adaptive systems are inherently predictable as an ensemble in the short run and how they all follow the same rules of the game.

That is really fascinating. It gives us tremendous hope to embrace complexity with faith. There is no point in ignoring complexity since we are entangled with it every moment of our lives. But once we embrace it knowing fully well how to read, learn and go about it —  life is simple indeed. The objective of learning about complexity and applying its principles is to make life simpler; not more complex.

That promises us an alternative way to lead our own lives through creativity and adaptation.

This alternative Leadership path can be summed up by three simple rules, which are —

1. Explain what is happening.

2. Institute methods to Foresee what might happen in the short term

3. Envision desired Interventions to make the system flow in the right direction.

Three of the best designed interventions that I found are a) Education b) Interactions c) Design. These give long term ongoing benefit for many.

So what do you feel and think about it?

Acknowledgement:

(I personally thank my colleague Trichur for prototyping complexity through this model. )