We Should Know the Cause of Things

The first week of my postgraduate program at the London School of Economics, I remember reading the motto on the coat of arms, “Rerum Cognoscere Causas”: to know the cause of things.

Virgil coined the phrase in Georgics, “Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas” – ‘Happy is he who has been able to discover the causes of things’. Centuries later, 12 members of a committee chose this phrase as our motto. It caught my attention. What ‘caused’ them to make this choice?

Professors and lecturers shared their thoughts, and in large part, the feedback was consistent: it is critical to understand and value the connection between cause and effect in what we do, to make better decisions and do things well.

This connected with my own thinking, and even seemed obvious. However, I knew from experience, not everyone appreciates and values ‘why things work the way they do’ and ‘how they came to be’, especially when quick-fix and short-term solutions with a lower price tag are attractive. We are becoming conditioned to accept phrases like, “it’s fine”, “if it is not broken”, and “it has always been that way”.

Knowing the cause of things has many short- and long-term benefits in terms of performance, productivity, character, reputation, peace of mind, and more.

Knowing the cause of things allows you to:

– determine if it is broken – or – supposed to work that way

– evaluate if you are treating symptoms or dealing with a core issue

– decide how to solve an issue, and where to strategically begin the repair

– create lasting solutions, so no one else has to inherit the same issue again

– support people, since you understand who they are and what drives them

– improve team communication, morale, loyalty, retention, and performance

– generate better decisions that create the greatest net value

– feel more comfortable with the decisions you make

Virgil was correct, as was the committee; in order to do things well and be happier in work and life, it is important to ‘know the cause of things’.

What are you doing to understand the decisions in your organization?

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