Thinking Processes – Current Reality Tree

The Current Reality Tree (CRT) is one of the Thinking Processes logical tools. As the name tells, it depicts the current reality* in a series of dependent logical cause-and-effect relationships, starting from Undesirable Effects down to one or a few critical root causes.

A root cause may also be called “core problem” or “core driver” in the original concept.

*Current Reality is somewhat misleading as it is focused onto the negative outcomes and what prevents achieving the Goal. This shortcut is a pragmatic choice made for the sake of solving the problem and improve the situation, not to fully map the as-is situation. In other words, we don’t care about what actually works. Besides, the Current Reality depicted in a CRT is a snapshot at a given moment.

Undesirable Effects (UDEs) are often called “problems” that people perceive, suffer from or have to cope with, but UDEs are most often only symptoms of deeper laying problems. The CRT is a tool that helps to surface and address the critical root cause(s).

As for many elaborated problem solving methods and tools, building a CRT is not required for every problem. It was specifically designed to solve complex, multi-factor and system-wide problems.

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Reading a CRT

It takes some experience to build a robust Current Reality Tree, which should not be done by a single person for the sake of robustness, and the best is to get used to read them first.

Current Reality TreeA CRT has more or less a V shape with the topmost and numerous UDEs on the top, other UDEs that are causes from topmost UDEs and their own causes, and so on down to the few critical root causes, usually located (near or) on the base of the CRT.

Once a tree is completed, it can be read either top-down or bottom-up. The construction is always top-down, from symptoms to causes to critical root causes.

A CRT is made of entities which are round-cornered boxes holding a brief description of a fact in present tense. Entities are either causes or consequences and most of them are both.

Entities which are linked have an arrow between them. The base of the arrow reads “if…” and the tip reads “then…”.

When reading a CRT top-down, the succession of linked entities reads “entity B exists (tip of arrow points to it) because of entity A (arrow starts from it)”.

When two or more arrows point to an entity, the entities at the base of the arrows are possible causes. The different arrows are logical “inclusive OR” relationships.

When the arrows are encircled by an ellipse, it means logical “AND” relationship: all the causes must exist simultaneously for the effect to exist.

Theory of Constraints is about focusing and leveraging, so does the CRT. The purpose of a CRT is to search for the root cause and while eliminating it, the whole tree of dependent UDEs disappears.

The investment of analyzing the situation with a CRT is really worth it, compared to the useless and wasted efforts trying to solve all the UDEs. Concentrating efforts on the sole critical root causes is much more efficient.

CRT example

CRTHere is one half fictitious example of a CRT inspired by a company I worked with.

The V shape is not so obvious (due to page / screen width limitation) but even without reading the entities, you’ll notice a node at the bottom of the CRT, which is a graphical hint for a good candidate of a core problem.

Indeed, in this case, all UDEs can be linked to the fact that over time, this company let its leadership slip away and now is facing tough competition with commonplace products.

As margins plummet, means for new developments are scarce and the fear of competition leads the company to follow the leaders, reinforcing its commonplace products offers.

Besides, having no clear company strategy, managers define themselves objectives without any alignment, which leads to many wastes in operations (see amplifying loop).

If the company manages to get out of commonplace products and regain leadership, the UDEs should disappear.


Please consider this post only as a brief introduction to Current Reality Tree. It takes some know-how and experience to be able to build a sound and robust CRT.


Other examples:


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5 thoughts on “Thinking Processes – Current Reality Tree

  1. Pingback: Thinking Processes - Current Reality Tree | The...

  2. Great summary Christ thanks!

    Can you recommend a particular resource/book for applying TOC Thinking Processes to someone’s personal life / small business?

    Alot of the material out there seems fairly heavy. 400-page books full of technical terms and/or expensive seminars… but the root thinking processes don’t sound that complicted.

    Is there a good book or summary somewhere that an individual could pick up and run with, applying the Thinking Processes to solve problems in ther life / biz?


    • Well, I would only recommend two books: Bill Dettmer’s “Logical Thinking Process”, which is big and somewhat expensive, but the best value/price ratio.
      Second would be Lisa Scheinkopf’s “Thinking for a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use”, slimmer, almost as expensive and least going in the step-by-step process for implementation. Lots of personal life examples though. Otherwise you can sift out explanations on the web, for free.


      • Thanks very much Chris. I appreciate the swift reply, and I’m eager to try out these tools. Will check out the books.

        Been looking for non-linear, holistic, systems-based problem solving for a while now — it just seems to make so much sense for messy, interconnected reality. Was excited to find TOC, and now your blog.



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