In a previous article, we learned about the difference between the inherent and residual risks you face on the way to work: slipping in the shower, on the driveway or off the road. All these high inherent risks are reduced to low residual risks thanks to some preventative processes.

How do you anticipate risks you have never thought about? How can you prevent what you do not know? What are the unknown unknowns?

To solve this, you have to create the chain of events or a causal chain. What does the chain of interdependent events that ended in slipping on the driveway look like?

Why did you slip?
It was icy

Why was it icy?
I didn’t put down any salt

Why didn’t you throw any salt?
I didn’t buy any salt

Why didn’t you buy salt?
I didn’t know it would snow

Why didn’t you know it would snow?
I don’t listen to weather reports

This is a causal chain that starts with not listening to weather report and ends with slipping on the driveway.

Or does it?

Once you work backwards to identify the root cause, you can work forwards to identify interdependent risks you never considered and create chains of events that all link back to not listening to weather reports.

What are the events that occur after you slip on the driveway?

Did you miss the bus causing you to be late for a big presentation? Did you twist your knee causing you to miss the Marathon you were training for? These are both possible chains of events with the same root cause.

Take a moment to think of a mistake you made recently at your company and think about why it happened. Ask yourself “why?” five times in order to find the root cause. Can you think of other things that might go wrong if your root cause occurred again? What are the unknown unknowns that would link back to your root cause?

Bravo! You have just identified your first causal chain.

Since we cannot manage what we cannot measure and we cannot measure what we cannot see, everyone at your company needs to see, measure and manage their unknown unknowns.