Solve Problems by Understanding How Events Really Function: The Nature of Change, Transition Points and Inputs

Brian Hughes, Vice President

Change is fascinating and comes in many different forms. Look around you right now – you can see change in action, bundled up in packages we call “events”. An event is simply a unit of change – an excerpt from broader reality. A pine needle falling from a tree, steam rising off a hot cup of coffee, the door of a car opening and closing again… the seemingly ordinary, yet ultimately chaotic, march of entropy towards some distant state of equilibrium – the ultimate form of peace and quiet.

But that’s a ways off yet. The simple changes day in and day out don’t often concern us. There is simply too much to process, so we just go with the flow of it. We rarely think about the mechanism of change – how change itself works. That is, until something that we consider “really important” happens. When an event impacts us sufficiently, it gets our attention.

A basic understanding of how an event functions is crucial to all good problem solvers (root cause analysts). What are the inputs for an event? How do they work together to bring the change about?

When examining an event, often there is a point of obvious transformation. Using the Space Shuttle Columbia as an example, there was a point in time when the leading edge of the left wing became damaged. That point was when a piece of ice struck the leading edge of the left wing. Before the strike, the wing was intact. After the strike, the wing was compromised. The Titanic is another familiar example. The hull of the ship was breached. Before the ship struck the iceberg, the hull was intact. Afterwards, the hull was torn open. These are big, dramatic examples. But you can observe simple examples around you right now. Simply move an object from one place to another – you’ll recognize that the movement of the object represents a transition that plays a leading role in the event. If it’s quiet around you, make a sound. If you’re being noisy, shush up for a second or two. In each event you see that a transition takes place.

Transition points are fundamental elements in every event. Luckily, they are often easy to identify. If I spill my coffee on my desk, the transition - upset container - is obvious. A collision between a ship and an iceberg or between a chunk of ice and a spacecraft are also right there in the open – easy for us to observe. And even when a transition is not so obvious, the notion that a fundamental building block of change is represented by a transition is relatively easy to grasp. In fact, most people understand this in one way or another.  

However, it's a mistake to assume that change can live by transformation alone. In fact, an often-missed factor is that nearly every change has multiple inputs. For instance, ice striking the leading edge of Columbia’s wing was not alone enough to punch a hole in it – there also had to be a significant amount of force in the strike. Try thinking about it in the form of a question.  Every time ice strikes the leading edge of a shuttle’s wing, does it actually puncture the wing? Asking this question triggers your mind to sort through lots of alternative combinations in a way very similar to solving for a missing variable. You know the ice struck the wing, and you know that the result was a hole in the wing. But you don’t know the other factor(s) involved. When you add force to the equation, it balances out. Every time ice strikes a wing with sufficient force, it will put a hole in the wing. Try it with the spilled coffee example. Every time I upset my coffee cup, will coffee spill? Again, I’m going through the process of solving for missing variable(s). I’ve got to have coffee in the cup, and the cup needs to have an opening for the coffee to spill through.  

The fact that most events are the result of logical, parallel causes is new to most people, even if they understand it on a fundamental level. Understanding the mechanics behind events can be boiled down to a simple statement:

Events result from the combination of objects and transformations.

The word “and” is crucial because both of them are required in order for the event to occur. The Sologic RCA method identifies these two cause types as Transitory (transition points) and Non-Transitory (Objects, properties, and status). And logic ties it all together.

Comments

Attention to details

>>The simple changes day in and day out don’t often concern us. There is simply too much to process, so we just go with the flow of it. We rarely think about the mechanism of change – how change itself works. That is, until something that we consider “really important” happens. When an event impacts us sufficiently, it gets our attention.<<I saw a Discovery Channel program about brain function, and it was estimated that we go about our daily routines aware of about 8% of what's going on around us at any given time.  So it must be inherantly difficult to pull all the details out of a snapshot in time if we're only aware of a small amount of what's really happening.

Buzz:  Thanks for sharing.  I

Buzz:  Thanks for sharing.  I haven't seen the Discovery Channel show, but that sounds very interesting.  It's true - we are exposed to a terrific amount of information and while we may actually record all of it somewhere actually recalling and making use of it seems to be beyond most of our abilities.

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