Citrus Tree Parable

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Excuse while I point out the obvious regarding citrus trees.  The fruit of a citrus tree and the roots look very different.  The fruit is often beautiful, delicious, smells good and attracts the eye.  It appeals to practically all of the senses.  Roots on the other hand are difficult to see and are covered with dirt. Although not as attractive, the roots are the lifeline to the tree.

I will be referring back to this oversimplified description as I discuss three challenges of root cause analysis which include:


1) Correct Analysis

2) Time & Resources

3) Emotional Appeal


Correct Analysis

Often when people see a problem, they are looking at the symptoms (or fruit) of the problem.  For example the fruit may be poverty and those that strive to do good will quickly see that the poor do not have monetary goods so an individual will be inclined to give them food or pocket change.  However, this does not provide the poor with the long term ability to alleviate poverty.  In other words it does not get to the “root” of the problem.  Pun intended.

In the case of Fabio Rosa who was very determined to resolve poverty in Brazil, he discovered observed that the apparent fruit of the problem is that the poor were moving out of their farming communities and moving into the inner city.  This caused an array of other problems.  After researching the problem in-depth he found that the root cause were the barriers to entry for affordable electricity.

Time & Resources

For Fabio Rosa to discover that affordable electricity was the problem he had to spend countless hours finding a solution.  When he did find an affordable solution he had to overcome other barriers.  I felt like Fabio was the “Rudy” of Social Entrepreneurship.  He kept facing his adversity and refused to give up.  A friend of mine, Mitch Huhem, created a formula for success.  He stated that many successful people have two things in common: failure and persistence.  Those individuals who have the capacity to persistently prevail despite their failures will eventually be successful.

Success = Persistence + Failure

It takes a determined individual to keep moving forward despite the many obstacles that may occur.

Emotional Appeal

Often the fruit of the problem is more appealing.  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the fruit appeals to most of the senses.  The fruit opens up pocketbooks, is often easier to describe and market.  Discovering the root of the problem does not have the instant gratification that the fruit of the problem can provide.  For example distributing shoes to third world counties is very visually appealing.  Seeing shoeless children cuts me to the core.  I stop and think about how I would feel and how it would affect my day to day activities, if I didn’t have something as simple shoes.  To resolve this problem, I can quickly buy a pair of shoes for a child.

But as we know this doesn’t solve the root of the problem for shoeless children.  It is a temporary fix, a band aid.  It’s giving a man a fish not teaching him how to fish. It is not the long term solution.  To discover the long-term solution I would have to do hours of research, interviews, etc.  This can quickly lose its emotional appeal to me.  Hours of research may not give me the instant gratification and satisfaction.

Hopefully those that read the challenges of root analysis will not be discouraged; on the contrary, I hope it is eye opening and will encourage individuals to be more analytical while partnering with, or creating socially innovating solutions