Find your Leverage Point with Current Reality Tree

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes.

How to start

Today, we are looking at identifying the leverage point when you can't see the wood for the trees. Imagine you have a long list of issues and you don't know where to start. For today's article, I show a simplified version of how I once felt in my life and I hope you never get to the same point. The issues, or let's call them Undesired Effects (UDEs), that I had were:

  • Too much to do
  • Spending time on the wrong things
  • Too little progress
  • Feeling Exhausted
  • Putting myself under pressure
  • Working long hours Clearly, the list could be longer, including family time, etc. Please note that they are all about me and how I fail at my goal of being more productive. However, any set of UDEs will do as a starting point as long as they are related to a single goal.

I put them all in a graph (see below for the details on the method).


A graphical representation of the Undesired Effects (UDEs)

Now, the leverage point would be something that I can change that would be able to improve each single UDE. So, what could that be?

Connecting the UDEs

If you have a long list, you see that some of these UDEs are directly impacting each other. When I say that, I mean that UDE A is the cause for UDE B and note it as A -> B. When more than one UDE is causing another UDE, I write it as A + B -> C. And clearly, some things are just things that I can't change, like the weather, or the fact that I have to sleep. We will call these things "Given". They can be a cause for a UDE, but they can't be changed.

So, you start connecting them and you might get a graph like this:


The graph after partially connecting my UDEs

In this incomplete graph, we only have 2 UDEs that don't have a cause (at the bottom). Clearly, this graph is only valuable if we build something that is grounded in reality. What is needed whilst we connect the graph is that we Challenge each connection:** Is there a real cause and effect relationship? Is A always leading to B or is there another cause needed? It is easy to connect things that sound ok. We should be sure that it is the case.

  • Challenge each new box: Especially when we go for feelings and emotions, we should be sure that we are not just making things up. We should be able to explain why we feel a certain way. If we can't, we should not add it to the graph.
  • Identify other reasons: If we can't find a cause for a UDE, we should ask ourselves if there is another reason. Maybe we are just not aware of it. Maybe we are not ready to admit it. But we should be sure that we are not missing something. In the language of the graph: even if we have an A -> B connection that we are sure is correct, we should still ask ourselves if there is another reason for B. If we find one, we should add it to the graph as a C -> B connection. You can always delete C later if it isn't helping you to connect the graph.

Finding the Leverage Point

Eventually, my graph looked like this:


The final graph

So, here we have a graph that is connecting all UDEs and we have one UDE marked as a Changeable. And if you look at the graph, you see that this is the only UDE that is causing all other UDEs, this is my leverage point. The leverage point was that at that time in life, I simply didn't prioritize my work. And without a clear prioritisation:

  • I was working on the wrong things
  • I was working long hours
  • I was putting myself under pressure
  • I was feeling exhausted
  • I was making too little progress and I had too much to do.

One can see in hindsight how indeed all these issues are connected to a lack of prioritisation. If we now define priorities the whole situation will improve. Most likely, a set of priorities will quickly lead to regular time planning to make sure that the priorities are met first. So, there is still work to be done, but by using the leverage point, all of the other issues can be solved if you keep on working diligently and use the insights gained by the exercise.


So, what did I do?

  • we started with a list of UDEs
  • we connected them to a logical graph, where each connection A -> B means that A is causing B
  • we identified the leverage point as a changeable problem that is causing all other UDEs

You might ask, is this even possible? Could it be so simple that all my problems are caused by a single problem? Well, there was a condition that you need to meet for this to work: The UDEs need to be related to a single goal. If you have a set of UDEs that are related to different goals, then you will have multiple leverage points. And if you have multiple leverage points, then you need to find a way to prioritize them. Or you need to create a goal encompassing both goals. But that is a different story.

Clearly, this is a simplified version of the method. The more detailed version will be on soon.

If you ever worked in a complex environment then you know that it's not that easy to find the root cause of an issue. What do you do to find the root cause of an issue? Fishbone diagram? Sharp Thinking? Trial & Error? 5 Whys?

Finding your Leverage Point is maybe the most versatile of them all! The starting point is slightly different from other approaches. Instead of looking at one problem in isolation, Find Your Leverage Point is looking at the whole environment and identifying the point with the highest leverage. This makes sense as most issues are interconnected. And here is the fundamental difference to most other approaches. Most other approaches are looking at a single problem and help you fix that particular issue. You will feel good about fixing an issue, but you might not see any change in the big scheme of things.


The idea behind "Find you Leverage Point" is from Eliyahu Goldratt. His belief was that in any system only a few things need to be changed to improve the situation significantly. The theory of constraints (TOC) is one of his examples of this. For TOC he showed how work on a single point (the constraint) leads to improvements of the whole system. (see for example my introduction to TOC. The full idea regarding simplicity is nicely written down in the book The Choice.

The book The Choice by Goldratt argues that all problems can be solved more easily than expected when viewed from the right perspective. Moreover, many problems often trace back to a single root cause. Fix this root cause, and the entire situation improves. This article is all about finding that key leverage point.

Current Reality Tree (CRT) Explained

The right notation is key for effective problem-solving. We're going to use the Current Reality Tree (CRT) - a tool developed by Eliyahu Goldratt, which helps trace problems back to their root causes. A CRT is a visual map of our current issues (termed "Undesirable Effects" or UDEs) and their underlying causes. By following the trail of causes and effects, we can target the root causes for effective solutions. CRT follows the sufficient cause logic from the Theory of Constraints (TOC) thinking processes. Simply put, if a cause is confirmed, then the effect is confirmed too.

Let's explore the different elements of a CRT: | Node Type | Description | | ------------------- | -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | Undesirable Effect | Starting points in a CRT, symbolizing unwanted outcomes caused by other factors. | | Intermediate Effect | Outcomes neither good nor bad, but caused by other factors. | | Desirable Effect | Goals to be achieved, caused by other factors. | | Given | Constants or unchangeable conditions, like gravity. | | Changeable | Conditions that can be modified to prevent issues from recurring. | | And Junctor | Shows that an outcome occurs only if two conditions are met. |

The CRT is fundamentally about identifying causes and effects, and discerning what can be changed and what cannot.

How to find your Leverage Point

To create a CRT, you first identify the Undesired Effects (UDEs) that you are experiencing. List them first, with a suggestion of between 5-10 These are the symptoms of the problem that you are trying to solve. Once you have identified the UDEs, you can begin to identify the underlying causes. These are the factors that are contributing to the UDEs.

CRTs are typically drawn as a tree, with the UDEs at the top, and the underlying causes at the bottom. The underlying causes are connected to the UDEs by arrows, which show the causal relationships between them.

Once you have created a CRT, you can begin to develop solutions to the problem. The solutions should address the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms. By addressing the root causes, you can achieve lasting improvement.

Here are some of the benefits of using CRTs:

They help you to identify the root causes of problems. They help you to develop solutions that address the root causes of problems. They help you to improve the performance of systems. They help you to think more systemically. They help you to communicate your ideas more effectively. If you are looking for a powerful tool for problem-solving, then CRT is a great option. It is a simple tool to use, but it can be very effective in helping you to identify and address the root causes of problems.

The process is complete when all UDEs are connected, and you can identify the single effect that requires modification for the most significant impact.