Causes of the Challenger Explosion
Cause 1: Space Shuttle Challenger exploded because of failing O-ring seals that were not designed to handle the cold temperatures of the launch morning.
Cause 2: Space Shuttle Challenger exploded because NASA was a dysfunctional organization.
The most immediate cause of the explosion is the O-rings failing. This is the proximate cause.
Why did the O-rings fail? Because they weren’t designed for cold weather.
Why did the space shuttle launch during cold weather? Because NASA allowed it to launch.
If you continue down the path of whys, you eventually get to the true cause, or the root cause.
In this case, the root cause was a dysfunctional NASA.
Discovering the Root Cause with Super Smash Bros
Once you know the proximate cause, continue to ask why until you discover the root cause.
I went to a Super Smash Bros tournament a few months ago and lost a few close sets (I ended up at 9th place…relatively mediocre).
Q: Why didn’t I win the Super Smash Bros tournament?
- I got hit by Charizard’s f-tilt while doing a standard getup. Why?
- I wasn’t ready for it and I didn’t know how to react from the ledge. Why not?
- Because I didn’t bother figuring it out before the match. Why not?
- Because there are a lot of matchups in the game, and I didn’t plan for them all. Why not?
- Because I didn’t allocate time to plan for each matchup. Why not?
- Because there are other things I value more.
Of course, this isn’t the only path the whys could take.
The proximate cause for losing is getting hit by a particular attack.
The root cause is that I don’t value winning enough to allocate more time to it.