Nothing adds complexity, wastes time and reduces the effectiveness of organisations as much as solving problems by focusing on effect rather than cause.

Take the immediate response to the latest failed terrorist attack. By adding to the number and length of searches carried out on all air passengers, the authorities are merely adding to the workload of security staff, delaying flights and increasing costs for all involved.

It is the equivalent to ‘fixing’ a leaking pipe by placing a series of buckets underneath the leak. It does nothing to fix the hole in the pipe or prevent future leaks from occuring.

Since the atrocities of 9/11 I am not aware of any instances where terrorists were prevented from carrying out an attack on a commercial airline as a result of an airport security check.

I see the same inefficiencies in corporate organisations. For example, I recently worked with an organisation where it took an executive level director over 3 months, and many hours of negotiation, to get his team the smart phones they needed to do their jobs well.

As he haggled with the “Head of Smart Phones” he found out that one or two previous managers had wasted money on unnecessary smart phones in the past. Unfortunately, these actions were then used to prevent anyone else from acquiring these phones.

The best solution for this organisation is not to make it harder for everyone to make good decisions (which focuses on effect), but to change the behaviour of the previous managers and to appoint and develop more capable managers in the first place (which both focus on cause).

Similarly, the solution for airline security is not to impose unnecessary screening on the vast, vast majority of passengers, but to focus the attention of the security services on higher-risk passengers and to prevent those who are suspected of terrorist involvement from boarding the plane in the first place.