Roots are too Messy

We talk about root causes to issues like finding one will bring us to a specific, singular, key problem.  Finding a root cause sounds super attractive, but I did a Google search and found out that roots actually look pretty messy.  Take a look:

I’m aware that people started using the word “root” to denote finding the deep, source, foundational problem that would catalyze the destruction of the rest of the issue if it were eliminated, but I think that taking the analogy too far is useful.  When dealing with an intractable issue, one can ask hundreds of questions and dig nearly infinitely deep as to the cause of the issue in search of a singular cause.  Unfortunately, the tracks usually look more like the roots, a messy tangle of similar and independent issues sometimes converging, sometimes stretching out.

Root causes are still very useful, attacking a root will usually be much more sustainable and effective than hitting the visible and attractive leaves of the problem, constantly fluttering and reaching for our attention.  We can try to attach the problem at its leaves or branches, but roots would be much better.

Unfortunately, root problems are hard to see, hard to get to, and hard to comprehensively understand.  As such, I think we might find value in searching for “trunk” problems.

When searching for a root problem, people usually start at the branches, and work on down until they start mapping out the intricate root system involved, forced to make frequent decisions on what is useful, what provides strength, and what maintains the foundation.  When we can find a common convergence at a more exposed point of the issue, we’ve found our trunk, and we can pick up our ax.

William Wilberforce played by Ioan Gruffudd in “Amazing Grace”

If the move “Amazing Grace” is relatively accurate to life events, we can draw on their experiences as a lose analogy.  They tried every which way to get slavery outlawed in the United Kingdom, but it wasn’t until they took a step back from the roots of port-town support for slavery, elitist disdain for the common people, the public’s disregard for the fate of other races, etc., that they found they could “chat” and hack at the essential connecting point between the roots of legal slavery in the United Kingdom and the actual problem.

So let’s get to the trunk of things!  So long as we understand enough of the root system as well as the leaves and branches, we can find where the trunk lies, chop at its base, and do without the shovels.