Find the root cause

To build something new requires you get good at solving problems, and you need every advantage to solve them. Clearly defining the problem is always the first step in the process. Tease apart the problem and break it down into smaller pieces to recognize the type of problem you are facing. We frequently do not recognize exactly what problem we are trying to solve until we dig deeper.

Breaking a complex problem down to its foundation and generating original solutions from the ground up is called thinking from “first principles.” Write down your assumptions, then ask “why?” and keep asking “why” until you have exhausted your ability to answer. There you will find the root cause of your problem.

Often our assumptions, biases, and blind spots hold us back from identifying the best solution. To overcome those hurdles, use first principles thinking to reveal the underlying truth.

Here’s an example. I worked on a business that sold leads for home improvement projects to the best contractors in San Diego CA. But we were struggling to get ahold of contractors even though we were generating quality leads. 

  • Why are the highest rated contractors not responding to our calls and emails?

They are in the field working and too busy to reply.

  • Why?

Most contractors are small businesses and don’t have administrative support.

  • Why?

They are doing the work themselves and not able to scale their businesses to hire more employees to support them.

  • Why?

Most small contractors enjoy working with their hands more than the administrative office work. Also they struggle to find employees to do the quality work in the field without their constant direct supervision.

  • Why?

Most of their business is from referrals from homeowners who were happy with the quality of their work.

  • Why?

The contractors did most of the work themselves to ensure a high quality job. Therefore the best contractors had too much work and were not interested in buying new leads.

You can see once you break down the problem and tease it apart, the problem becomes clearer. Use this same approach to solve problems at work or to learn a new skill. Once the problem is clearly defined, you can develop an effective strategy to solve it. Next time you are wrestling with a problem, break it down to find the root cause and develop the solution from the ground up.


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