Problem Finding/Effects and their causes

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Most events—called “effects” here—have many contributing causes.

Several systematic approaches can be used to carefully analyze and identify the many contributing causes of various effects, including system failures or other problems. Each of these tools avoids the single cause fallacy, by helping to identify the many factors contributing to each outcome. One of the simplest and most powerful is the Cause-and-Effect diagram, also known as a fishbone diagram or an Ishikawa diagram. The failure mode and effects analysis is a related tool that is more rigorous and will not be covered further in this course.

These ideas are more fully developed in the Wikiversity course Attributing Blame.

Several examples that illustrate problem finding are developed here. An outline representing a cause-effect diagram is provided for each example problem. Each cause-effect diagram includes the “presenting symptom” (e.g. “late to work”, a list of “proximate causes” (e.g. “getting up late”), a list of contributing causes, and perhaps an ultimate cause or root cause.

Considering the causes that contribute to each problem illustrated here, what cause is the best to act on to solve the problem? Where in the causal chain would intervention be most effective?

Late to Work

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Why am I late to work so often?

  • I Get up late
    • Set my alarm too late
      • I like my sleep
      • Underestimated time needed to get out of bed
      • Unfounded optimism
    • Went to bed too late
      • Enjoying late TV
      • Enjoying visitors
      • Went out late
      • Talking on the phone
      • Glued to my smartphone and social media
      • Trouble getting to sleep
        • Late night coffee
        • Too much on my mind
    • Bored by my job
    • Alarm did not go off
      • Alarm was not set
      • Mixed up AM and PM
      • Power failure overnight
  • Busy morning routine
    • Choosing what to wear
      • Did not plan what to wear
      • Tired of my wardrobe choices
      • Need to do my laundry
    • Long shower in the morning
      • It feels so good
      • Too tired to shower last night
      • Good hygiene is expected
    • Deciding what to have for breakfast
      • Need to go food shopping
      • Tired of my breakfast choices
      • Need to do the dishes
  • Unexpected problems in the morning
    • Phone call from a friend
    • Car needs gas
    • Flat tire
    • Car would not start
    • Need to finish my homework
    • Need to prepare for the day’s work
  • Long commute
    • Housing prices
      • I can’t afford to live closer
      • This is where I live
        • I have always lived here
        • I can only afford to live with my parents
    • Job availability
      • I like this job
      • I am stuck with this job
    • I like living here
    • Traffic jams
      • Road construction
      • Poor roadway design
      • Traffic volume
      • Poor public transportation
      • Bad weather
  • I don’t care if I am late to work
    • Boring job
    • No future here
    • Hostile workplace
    • Lousy pay


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Why am I overweight?

  • I Eat too much
    • I like to eat
      • Food tastes good
      • Portions are large
      • Food is abundant
    • Unhealthy food
      • Readily available food is often unhealthy
      • Unhealthy food tastes good
        • Sugar tastes great
        • Fat tastes great
        • Ice-cream is awesome
        • Healthy foods are boring to eat.
        • I don’t have a good selection of healthy food recipes
      • I buy too much unhealthy food
        • It is featured at the supermarket
        • I always have eaten this stuff
        • I don’t read the nutrition labels
    • I eat out often
      • I enjoy eating out.
      • I enjoy gathering with friends around meals.
      • I don’t like to cook and clean dishes
      • There are lots of good restaurants in the area.
  • Not enough exercise
    • Exercise is hard work
    • Exercise is boring
    • I have not found a fitness activity I enjoy
      • My bike has a flat tire that needs to be fixed
    • I don’t go outside in bad weather
    • The gym is too far away
    • I don’t see immediate results from exercising.
  • Unsuitable reference model
    • Maybe my present weight is healthy.
      • I don’t know my BMI.
    • I am not a movie star
    • I am not a fashion model
    • I am not an Olympic athlete

Auto Accident

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Causes contributing to an auto accident are analyzed in the Cause-Effect analysis section of the Wikiversity course Attributing Blame. Please refer to that example.

Suboptimal Life Experiences

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An ambitions and preliminary analysis of the many causes of “suboptimal life experiences” is being developed as a research project. Please study the on-going work, use it as an example, and contribute to the research effort if you would like to.