The Thinking Process

The TOC Thinking Process is an interactive, logic-based approach to problem solving that can be applied to the most complex of systems. We as people often don’t think through issues to the extent that we should. The Thinking Process brings to light the assumptions we make in our thinking habits, and illustrates the ramifications of those assumptions.
With the Thinking Process, you will be able to identify and eliminate the core conflict that is the cause of your organization’s shortcomings.

The Thinking Process answers the following three questions:

  1. What to change?
  2. What to change to?
  3. How to cause the change?

In answering these questions it is possible to unlock the hidden potential and excess capacity that is not currently recognized in your organization.

3 Cloud Method, Identify the Core Conflict

The first step in solving any problem is correctly identifying the root cause. This allows us to focus on the root issue rather than the symptoms. In organizations, the root issue is referred to as the core conflict and can be identified using conflict clouds. The core conflict is one that exists because of opposing pressures, both often due to noble reasons. The core conflict is there because the organization must appease both pressures in order to stay viable. An example that is often used in a manufacturing environment is the push to run large batches vs. the push to run small batches. Running large batches is appealing because of the volumes that can be completed, but smaller batches can provide more flexibility. If it were possible to maintain flexibility without compromising large volumes, we would not have a conflict, but because running large volume orders does inhibit flexibility, a conflict exists.

Not every organization has the same issues, so not every organization has the same core conflict. So, how to you identify a core conflict? A core conflict can be identified using the three cloud method. The three cloud method is a means by which multiple undesirable effects can be assessed to point one toward the core conflict. The method itself is a bit involved and requires an extensive write-up in itself, so I won’t go into specifics here. The basic idea is that a core conflict can be identified through essentially averaging out three independent conflicts that exist within an organization.

Establish the Current Reality Tree

Once the core conflict is realized, it is possible to map out an organization’s current reality in a logical sequence known as the Current Reality Tree (CRT). The CRT is a logical map that lays out the correlation of the core conflict to all of the other undesirable effects. This step alone will educate you extensively on the whys in your organization. A CRT uses sufficiency-based logic, which forces one to link the elements in the tree in a cause and effect manner. Feedback loops are illustrated to show the “perpetual” nature of the requirements that cause the core conflict.

“IF we can only produce three widgets a day, AND IF the minimum order is 5 widgets, THEN every order will require at least two days to ship.”

The CRT will help to build a consensus as to what common problems are and how they are viewed. It also forces one to think through the conditions required for each effect. A properly structured CRT will align with the structure of your core conflict and thus validate its existence.

Establish the Future Reality Tree

The Future Reality Tree (FRT) can be thought of as the inverse of the CRT. All of the undesirable effects that existed in the CRT are transformed into desirable effects, and the desirable future reality is proposed. The conflict is replaced with injections that won’t allow the conflict to exist. The injections are the actions, policies, or procedures that the organization will change in order to address the initial core conflict.

Like the CRT the FRT also incorporates feedback loops. The feedback loops in the FRT, however, work to continually lessen the problems and increase the desirable affects you are looking for. This is the initial stage of a solution, but at this point it is left unchallenged and operates as more of an idealist direction worth pursuing.

Negative Branch Reservations

In addressing change, one must also address risk. Up to any point change has not occurred because the risk associated with that change has not been eliminated. So we must address the risk, or there will be negative branches associated with the proposed solutions brought about by the FRT. Negative Branch Reservations (NBR) are the negative ramifications that come from instituting a proposed solution.

This is one of the easiest parts of the thinking process to complete; it is simply stating all the reasons a proposed solution won’t work. What are the worst things that can happen if an action is taken? What are the possible losses associated it? How will we ever survive not staying where we are?!? People naturally resist change, so you won’t have trouble here.

With all of the negative branches in place you begin to comb through the potential risks and set up measures to trim the negative branch. You set up the possible safety nets that will be required to eliminate the risk associated with the proposed change.   

The Prerequisite Tree

Now that we have a solution to our core conflict, the ideal future reality, and have brought to light all of the negative ramifications associated with change, it is time to iron out all of the bumps that will allow the strategy to be executed. The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) compiles the FRT, NBR, and a slew of other “prerequisites” needed to overcome obstacles that arise along the way. Identifying obstacles differs from identifying negative branches in that obstacles may simply be obtaining a license, or acquiring a resource, where as a negative branch is a ramification that comes as the result of change.

The PRT uses necessity-based logic to define what is needed to accomplish the final objective. Unlike sufficiency-based logic, which accounts for what is sufficient to cause an outcome, necessity-based logic accounts for everything needed for an outcome. The PRT structure is such that each intermediate objective must be accomplished before the final objective can be achieved. Like in the NBR, many objections and prerequisites will arise, but the more that are accounted for, the more complete the final solution will be.

Transition Tree

The final step the Thinking Process is the Transition Tree (TRT). This is the sequential layout of how actions will be completed. The TRT will fill in the gaps between the intermediate objectives that were left by the PRT. The TRT in a way can be thought of as a step-by-step outline for others to use in order to transition from the current reality to the future reality.

I have been amazed at how effectively the thinking process can work in seemingly impossible situations. I have also been amazed at how much we don’t think through issues. In conducting a full thinking process, you begin to understand the number of assumptions we make in our thinking habits and begin to see how damaging those assumptions can be. Take the time to think through your situations and let us know what you find.


About TJ

Engineer and Entrepreneur