Contradictions Do Not Exist, Check Your Premises (Part I)

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
-Ayn Rand

This two part post explores resolving conflict that impedes progress. We’ll use mind maps to diagram the Evaporating Cloud technique introduced by Eliyahu Goldratt as part of his Thinking Process in the Theory of Constraints. Part I will give an overview of the technique, which will then be applied to an example in Part II.

The Necessary Requirements to Reach a Goal

Let’s use a mind map to show the requirements that are necessary to achieve a goal (keeping the descriptions generic for the purpose of overiew only):

Goal and Requirements

These are necessary requirements, meaning that all must be present to achieve the goal. Each of these requirements will typically have their own requirements, cascading down the tree structure to the preconditions at the end of each branch.

Sources of Conflict That Prevent Progress

When constructing a diagram showing the hierarchy of requirements needed to achieve a goal, you may find that some of the preconditions are in conflict with each other (as indicated by the red arrow between Preconditions 1.1.2 and 3.2):

System Conflict

For example, your goal might have a precondition that requires buying an expensive piece of equipment while another precondition requires minimizing spending. These kinds of conflicts cause a ‘friction’ in the system that slows (or even stops) progress towards the goal.

The Conflict Resolution Diagram (Evaporating Cloud)

For the purpose of resolving the apparent conflict, the above diagram can be simplified to show just the key elements in what is called a Conflict Resolution Diagram (or Evaporating Cloud):

Simplified Conflict

Since Requirements 1.1 and 3 are assumed necessary, the contradiction or conflict rests between Preconditions 1.1.2 and 3.2. Note that each connecting line in the diagram implies a number of assumptions, like Precondition 1.1.2 is necessary for Requirement 1.1. Echoing the Ayn Rand quote above, Goldratt maintains that the problem is not the conflict or contradiction, but actually due to bad underlying assumptions. Once the bad assumptions are invalidated, the conflict evaporates like a dark cloud (hence Evaporating Cloud).

Challenging Assumptions

The first step is to make the assumptions explicit by listing them:

List Assumptions

Each of these assumptions then needs to be reviewed to see if it is really valid. Suppose Assumption 8 is found to be invalid. This usually leads to some ideas about the actual precondition needed. This new precondition is called an Injection by Goldratt, as depicted below:

Bad Assumption and Injection

Note that Precondition 3.2 can now be removed from the original diagram of the goal and replaced by the Injection. Most importantly, note that the red arrow depicting the conflict has been removed, indicating a self-consistent system of requirements necessary to achieve a goal:

System Fixed

The discussion to this point has focused on an overview of the mechanics involved in creating and solving a Conflict Resolution Diagram- admittedly a bit dry (unless the logic stirs your inner Vulcan).  So Part II will walk through an example.