Applying root cause analysis to decision making
Do you ever find your brain “connecting the dots” between multiple ideas or theories? Humas are great at pattern recognition, so you probably have. Those connected dots can lead to insights. That’s what happened here for me. The following theory can help you make more money, be more productive, and most importantly, live a more meaningful life.
The first dot is Root Cause Analysis. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a phrase used across different areas of tech and science. Being in security, I see it used most for incident response. It’s simply a way to find the root cause of something that occurred.
The second dot is “first principles”. On podcasts and audiobooks I’ve listened to over the last few years, the idea of “first principles” has surfaced a few times. First principles thinking is often defined as the practice of actively questioning every assumption you have about a concept. It’s akin to peeling the layers of an onion back until you are at the “root ideas”.
The third dot is a business application. I’ll call it “bottom-line thinking” here. Alex Hormozi has mentioned in his numerous youtube videos and podcasts. It’s the idea that viewing your actions (at work or in your side hustle) as they relate to the bottom line is super beneficial.
The fourth dot is a variation of the five whys applied to finding the intrinsic motivation behind one’s actions. I’ve been applying this in my life for more than 10 years. The goal is to find out the underlying reason you are doing something.
Connecting the dots
There is a clear connection between these concepts. I call it the “core theory”, but the concept is more important than the name. In the concepts above there is a core cause, core principle, core profit-making action, or a core motivation.
The observation that there is a root cause of many things isn’t that unique, but it is powerful. It’s powerful because it clarifies what the priority is. Let’s look at examples.
In an incident response situation, the root cause is critical because it tells you how the attacker got in. The highest priority is to close the initial access and prevent more intruders from gaining access via that entry method.
Let’s say you work for a company where you do cold sales calls, manage some accounts, and a few other things. By figuring out which of those activities have the biggest impact on the company’s bottom line, doing more of that, and emphasizing it to your boss, you’ll have an outsized impact on the business and your career.
If you tell your kids not to play in the road “because you said so” without explaining the root motivation, they might still play on train tracks or somewhere else dangerous. If you give them the root motivation such as “because I want you to be safe”, then they can extrapolate out to other decision which would keep them safe.
If you are asking yourself why you are washing the dishes and the answer is “because it makes my spouse happy when I do them”, it may actually help you realize that there is something your spouse needs more at that moment (quality time, emotional support, etc).
Ideas and theory are great, but I like practical tips more. Here’s what this entire post means you should actually do differently:
- Think more about the deepest reason why you’re doing something. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself “why am I doing this?” over and over until you get to the base motivation. Then you assess if that’s a good reason to be doing it. If it’s not, you can stop doing it and pivot to a more important task.
- When parenting or teaching others, always explain the why behind rules and guidelines. It lets them apply the reasoning to similar situations.
- When working for others, focus on the task that affects the bottom line most, and emphasize your efforts to superiors. This means you’re being maximally impactful and getting credit for it.
- When working for yourself, focus on the tasks that impact your bottom line the most. It’s often the task with the most leverage (training someone, automating something, etc).
- Many of my readers are bug bounty hunters. If you are hacking to make money, don’t rabbit hole. If you find something interesting, spend a few minutes on it, save it off into a note, and keep going. The “priority” is finding more bugs, not figuring out one obscure bug.
- Etc. There are countless ways this can be applied. I’d love for you to tweet me a meaningful way you applied this to your life: @rez0__
Thanks for reading!
If interested: How I apply this to my faith
As a Christian, I think a lot about how to best glorify God with my life. So for me, I want the “root motivation” for most of my actions to be “to bring God glory.”1 I work to provide for my family because I believe God gave me the responsibility to protect and provide for them. If I find myself randomly scrolling social media, that’s likely not serving God in any capacity. However, producing quality content that I post on twitter is both meaningful work, and it allows me to grow my audience where I can be a light to the world.
Furthermore, it’s both humbling and encouraging to remember that I am working for the Lord in whatever I do.1 I believe the Christian life is one of sacrifice.2 Doing chores around the house is serving my family. Tipping well is living generously.3 Even small things like parking slightly further away, so coworkers can have a better parking spot, can be a way to serve people around you. I also take care of my body. I believe that our bodies are a temple.
So yeah, even in the realm of faith, thinking about the root motivation can be a powerful framing and focusing technique. It can help reframe day-to-day tasks into being more meaningful. And it can help one focus on doing things that are more important.