By Ben Butera, FUJIFILM

Problem Analysis helps us to answer the question, “Why did it happen?” by addressing specific objects or groups of objects and specific deviations. Other modes of thinking also ask “why?” but go beyond objects and deviations. Disciplines like philosophy, theology and metaphysics also ask “why?” and attempt to tackle questions like, “Why are we here?” or the mother of all questions, “How do we know what’s true?”

Regardless of the thinking discipline, some things are universal to any thinking process. A book I am currently reading, describes ten universal principals * of life and for me, the first three principals immediately screamed Kepner-Tregoe Problem Analysis, underscoring the universality of the process and the thinking behind it. Here are the first three universal principals, drawn from the ancient Greek philosophers, and how they are embedded in solving problems with Problem Analysis.

1. The Principle of Complete Explanation (Socrates, Plato & Aristotle)

The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.

Problem Analysis relies on this principle in Step Three of the process with “Evaluate Possible Causes.” When a number of possible causes have been identified, the problem solvers are challenged to identify the best opinion or theory as the most probable cause by looking at any assumptions that have been made. The most probable cause will have the fewest number of assumptions, the most reasonable assumptions and the overall simplest assumptions.

2. The Principle of Non-Contradiction (Plato & Aristotle)

Valid opinions or theories have no internal contradictions.

Problem Analysis integrates this principle into process Step Three with “Verbal Test for Possible Causes." Problem solvers use IS and IS NOT data to focus their thinking. For example, if X is the cause of Y, then how does it explain both the IS and IS NOT data? If there is no way to explain it, an internal contradiction can help problem solvers to hone in on the potential causes without contradictions and move towards a valid solution. 

3. The Principle of Objective Evidence (Plato & Aristotle)

Non-arbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.

Data accessible only to you is subjective. Data accessible to everyone is objective. This is not to say that data only accessible to you is not true; it's just not good objective evidence. This concept is embodied in the problem specification, Step One: “Describe the Problem.” The problem specification is performed to document the specific facts and to make them "visible" to everyone.

In his book, the author, Robert J Spitzer recounts how, when he taught philosophy to university students, he would ask, “Are all opinions equally valid?” Most students would answer yes, in the spirit of fairness and equality. Then Spitzer would use principles, like the three listed above, to demonstrate how some opinions are more valid than others. Problem Analysis has the same ability. When faced with a problem, there are often many vying opinions or theories about the root cause of a deviation. With Problem Analysis, the process reveals how some are more valid than others— by using classic, rational thought. 


KT has a powerful toolkit for root cause analysis and preventing future problems

* Ten Universal Principals; A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, PhD