Where We Are Today, with Ten Out of Eleven Papers Rejected

Here's where Thwink.org is today, as of mid 2014:

1. We've concluded that the global environmental sustainability problem is steadily growing worse. There is significant agreement here in the academic and environmental NGO community.

2. We've also concluded that solution efforts over the last forty years have had little impact on solving the problem and that the problem is insolvable with current methods. There is only a small amount of agreement here. While problem solvers acknowledge solution has been slow so far, most people working on the problem are confident that sooner or later the world will wake up to their urgent appeals to solve the problem. Consequently they are not interested in better ways to solve the problem, only in better ways to improve their current message so the world wakes up in time, before it's too late and ecological thresholds are reached. The much smaller group of people who are not confident the problem will be solved have pretty much given up or, in some cases, are continuing whatever method they've been using out of sheer desperation. They too are not interested in better ways to solve the problem because after all, it's insolvable.

These first two conclusions are illustrated in the graph below:

Smiling globe

The graph appears to offer strong proof that conclusion 2 is valid. Solution efforts are not working and the problem is behaving as if it was insolvable.

Now let's continue describing where Thwink.org is today:

3. WHY are current efforts to solve the sustainability problem failing? Because popular solutions do not resolve root causes. If they did, the problem would soon be solved. But since popular solutions don't resolve root causes, no amount of solution tweaking, arm twisting, editorializing, coalition forming, and so on will make current solution strategies work.

4. WHY are problem solvers unable to find the root causes and solution elements that can resolve the root causes? Because they are using a problem solving process that is not root cause analysis centric. Once problem solvers (including academics, NGOs, and agencies) begin using "a process that fits the problem," they will make the same monumental strides and enjoy the same success that industry has long enjoyed with root cause analysis, in the form of processes like Six Sigma, Kaizen, NASA's Root Cause Analysis Tool, and the Toyota Production System.

In an effort to promote this line of research, Thwink.org has submitted a total of eleven papers to peer reviewed journals. Only one has been accepted. The rest were strongly rejected, with one welcome exception. The eleventh submission was to PLOS One. The editor made some very helpful suggestions on how alternative approaches to designing the paper could bring it around to an acceptable form.

Thwink.org has also worked with NGOs. There too our message has been rejected. This includes serious work with the Club of Rome and the Sierra Club, and light work or discussion with dozens of others.

5. WHY have ten out of eleven Thwink papers been rejected? WHY are NGOs rejecting a root cause analysis approach? Because the system is so strongly resisting change that this resistance extends to the problem solvers themselves. They are unfortunately stuck in traditional ways of thinking and are unable to break out.

This brings to mind the words of the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

What is this new truth that Thwink.org would like to spread from the business world to public activism? It's actually an old truth applied in a new manner, as stated in our final conclusion:

Three main tools

6. The powerful tools of root cause analysis, process driven problem solving and model based analysis have long worked for industry, on both technical and social problems. These tools will therefore work for academia and NGOs on the sustainability problem. All that is necessary is to create some sort of initial process starting point, something that works at least a little bit and illustrates how the sustainability problem could be solved at the root cause level with process driven problem solving and model based analysis. After that, continuous process improvement will do the rest. As an example of an initial or "seed" process Thwink has engineered the System Improvement Process (SIP) and applied it to the global environmental sustainability problem.

However as we stated above, this strategy is being strong rejected by those who need it most: academia and NGOs. Thwink thus finds itself in Schopenhauer's first two stages and has reached an impasse. We are unable to move our message and research results forward due to change resistance. Therefore we have adopted a new strategy. We will seek out the very few others who see merit in "a process that fits the problem" approach, and let them design papers and projects that we at Thwink can then help execute.

This new strategy has so far led to one new suggestion and project. We are applying the System Improvement Process (SIP) to a difficult large-scale business problem that has been insolvable for years. SIP was designed from scratch to solve difficult large-scale social problems, such as the sustainability problem. If we can show with a case study that SIP works on large-scale social problems in the business world, then we should be able to get a paper published suggesting that analytical success is transferrable to other types of large-scale social problems, such as sustainability.

Preliminary results of the SIP analysis are looking favorable and we are already getting good reactions to our analysis results and early recommendations from top management. However, we have much hard, thoughtful work before us.

If you have ideas on how Thwink can move forward, please contact us.