Friday, September 23, 2011

Truly Understanding Cause and Effect

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on September 22, 2011 that growth is the main challenge faced by the world.

In making such a statement, I believe Secretary Geithner is either willfully or innocently ignoring the true primary challenge facing the world.

Yes, it is true that we are in very difficult financial times all around the world.

However, to cite growth as the problem is to be ignorant of the laws of cause and effect and only by studying the laws of cause and effect can we get down to solving the real challenges that are facing all of us.

Wikipedia defines cause and effect as:

…. an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event.

When we analyze a problem, many times what we perceive as “the problem” is in fact a symptom to a more deeply-rooted issue – the true problem.

This problem may be many levels deep, lost in a web of data, over or under analysis or be intentionally hidden by someone protecting themselves or a personal agenda.

However, until we get to root causes and significant contributing factors we have no hope of solving the issues at-hand.

For example, if we look at the scourges of cancer, heart attack and stroke, many doctors and experts tell us that many of them (not all) are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle – excessive or inappropriate food intake, poor exercise habits or concerns with the environment: poor air quality, soil contamination, inappropriate food additives, excessive stress, etc.

That being what it is, we look to scientists to find the white pill to cure us and save us from the terrible diseases that “take us out of nowhere”.  We know many of the contributing factors.  We just don’t want to have to face up to our responsibility in addressing them.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the financial crisis, I see a different problem. 

Think of it this way:

1. The powers-to-be have implemented fiscal policy over the years that have finally culminated in the difficulties we are living in today.  These are not problems that developed overnight – they were many decades in the making.

2. When the financial tsunami was rolling toward us, the experts didn’t see it coming (or claim they didn’t).

3. Despite many of their efforts, the economy has not responded positively to classic corrective efforts that have been successful in the past.

4. Some of these people, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, admitted in the spring of 2011 that they have no idea what’s wrong or what it will take to fix it.

So it becomes apparent to me that the greatest challenge in the world is not the fiscal one that some people are referring to.  The fiscal concerns are a symptom of a much larger problem.

If I architect a large-scale IT system for a client and it performs miserably, I would expect that I would be compelled to fix it.  If after many attempts, I tell my client that I have no idea what’s wrong with it, it becomes clear to the client where the real problem lies.

It’s not the poorly performing system.

It’s me, the guy who created it, can’t fix it and admits that he can’t fix it.

And frankly, I shouldn’t act surprised when I am asked to leave.

By the same token, I think if we TRULY look at the problems facing the world, we will recognize that what are promoted as problems are in fact merely symptoms.

Symptoms that point to the true causes, ones that need to be addressed if we are to see any true progress in the world.

In service and servanthood,



  1. Excellent post, Harry. An over simplification of causality is extremely dangerous...particularly when it takes place with people in power.

  2. Thanks, Nathan.

    It reminds me of an accident report I saw in the news a little while ago about a fatal car crash. The police said that speed caused the accident ... and then later on, noted that the driver was more than twice the legal alcohol limit.

    So the car may be have been going very fast .... but a driver, who consumed too much alcohol and drove too fast caused the accident.

    Take care and create a great Saturday, Nathan.