“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.”


I am both a complexity person and a “cause & effect” person. I believe all actions have a stimulus in some form or fashion. Yes. All actions. That said, I also know unwinding a usual complex interconnection of things to isolate a specific cause is often a fool’s errand. But the truth is that something always gets the ball rolling and it is often quite useful to spend some time thinking about causes of things. specifically, I rarely think “man, was that a stupid thing to do” when I see someone do something. Instead my first thought is almost always “gosh, I wonder what made them think that was the right thing to do.” To me that is a useful reflection of cause.

So. If I take that type of thinking and put Aristotle’s thought in place every time you see or hear someone say something, and rather than going ballistic or laughing or shaking your head or whatever,you place one of these into your head:

  • Chance
  • Nature
  • Compulsion
  • Habit
  • Reason
  • Passion
  • Desire

Maybe, just maybe, you will generate a more reasonable response to the situation than doing or saying something silly.

I will tell you that I wish more managers (or people managing people) in the business world would try this thinking out when managing people.

Too often I have seen ill considered responses to people’s actions in business environments and it becomes more of a “slamdown” rather than a teaching moment. Or are just plain stupid with regard to this topic (although I like to err on the side of “not investing the energy to teach”).

Cause and effect is any easy thing to grasp and I wonder why managers forget it. Maybe it is because we seem to often get caught up in the “blame game” versus “teaching game” (probably because of the alliteration). Or maybe we get caught up in the complexity narrative and begin thinking there is no cause for any of the effects happening. Either of those two beliefs are less than useful if you want to foster an effective business.

Anyway. There is a Law of Cause & Effect which states that Every EFFECT has a specific and predictable CAUSE and every CAUSE or Action has a specific and predictable EFFECT. I do not buy into that ‘law’, but, as a concept it is useful in exploration. It can be useful because it means that everything that we currently have in our lives is an effect that is a result of a specific cause (or groupings of causes). Simplistically, in a business world, these causes are the decisions we make and the actions we take on a daily basis. Whether our decisions seem small and rather insignificant, or whether they are significant and transformational in nature, does not matter. Each and every decision we have made and action we have taken has set events into motion creating some predictable and specific effects, and some unpredictable and specific events, that we are now experiencing in our lives.

Which leads me to Chance.

The Law’s premise is that life (or any personal action) isn’t built upon accidents, chance or luck. It is rather built upon Cause & Effect. While I think that is a bullshit, absurd, less-than-realistic, thought, I will suggest that for business it has some usefulness. In business you have to believe you can shape your future and destiny in some way or let’s say “nudge chance in your favor” or why be in business at all.


While I simplify cause and effect down to a sound bite “stimulus-response” when teaching high school kids, this thought is really overlooked in personal relationships.

It may be that in long term relationships there becomes such a comfort & routine that you stop paying attention to details or maybe better said “cues” as to what is really going on. Let’s call this “the slippery slope of indifference to stimuli.” In other words, ignoring (or simply overlooking or even being simply oblivious to) the cause ‘cues’ to specific actions and effects. And once you begin to overlook things you run the risk of beginning down that infamous slippery slope.

In the end.

While I began with Aristotle I will end with Harry Potter.

“Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them.”

Albus Dumbledore

We do have a knack for doing what is worst for us.

We should invest at least a bit of energy wondering why because we aren’t stupid.

I believe it is because we don’t invest enough energy asking “why did this happen?” when we do the ‘worst.’

Instead we choose “precisely the things that are worst for them” and shake our heads and move on.

Maybe if we seek to understand the cause for our actions a little better we could make good ole Dumbledore a little less insightful. Because, well, the answers to our actions are everywhere if you look around a bit. Ponder.

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Written by Bruce