Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Latent Cause Analysis -- NOT What You Might Think

I wish we would have thought of something different to call our approach to learning from things that go wrong, because Latent Cause Analysis sounds like what one might find when looking for "latent organizational weaknesses," and the two would not be more different.

Let me tell you a short story to help you understand its essence.

A family was eating dinner together. It was Friday evening, and it was part of their tradition to eat ice cream for dessert on Friday’s. The father got up to get the ice cream, and discovered there was not enough left for everyone to eat. The mom said “no worries – if you clean the dishes while I’m gone, I’ll go down to the store and get some more ice cream – I’ll be back in 15 minutes.” So she went to the store and bought the ice cream, and then got back into her car for the short drive home.

She approached an intersection and the traffic light turned red. She stopped the car to wait for the green light. But when she rolled to a stop, the car started idling VERY ROUGH. Two seconds later, it stalled.

She thought “OH NO, NOT AGAIN!” She tried to start it, and it wouldn’t start. She kept cranking the engine. It wouldn’t start. She was the first car at the light when the light turned green, but she couldn’t start the car! There were about 15 cars behind her, waiting to get through the light. They all started getting impatient. Some of them started honking their horns. Others passed her, and were not very happy.

Someone finally helped her push the car to the side of the road and then drove her back home. Of course, by this time, the ice cream melted. Even worse, of course, the mom was obviously distraught. When she finally got home, the whole family was anxious to hear where she had been, and when they heard what had happened they were sorry to hear of her experience. But they were all aware of the PRINCIPLES OF Latent Cause Analysis and jumped right into it as follows:

First, as soon as mom rested a bit and was ready to talk about what had happened, the whole family got together and sat around the table. They talked about the incident and HOW it had happened.
They all heard that the car had STALLED at the traffic light, and then each had remembered that the car had been STALLING for a number of weeks – each time getting a bit harder to start. Everyone remembered smelling GASOLINE when trying to start the car. Although the family couldn’t agree on the CAUSES of the stalling, they certainly could agree that there were some things about THEMSELVES that contributed to the mom’s dilemma.

That, dear reader, is the essence of Latent Cause Analysis -- seeing yourself as part of the problems around you instead of blaming other people and things.

Let me make it perfectly clear that in a Latent Cause Analysis, the first thing that’s usually focused on is the HOW, or the PHYSICS of the event. I’m going to skip that part of the Latent Cause Analysis for the purpose of this article to focus on WHAT’S DIFFERENT about Latent Cause Analysis, and what’s different is TWO QUESTIONS:

The first question this family would answer is "What is it about the way we ARE that contributed to this event," starting with the words “WE TEND TO…… “ and ending with “AND WE KNOW THIS IS NOT GOOD.”

The second question, and the LIFE CHANGING QUESTION, is "What is it about the way I AM that contributed to this event," starting with the words "I TEND TO...." and ending with "AND I KNOW THIS IS NOT GOOD."

Finally, each person would be asked what they intend to do about the way they are – and state their answers in front of everyone.

Imagine doing this in YOUR home! Imagine doing this at work! Don't think it can work?

Try it! The people and organizations that have tried this are flabbergasted at the results. Listen to some of their comments at:

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