The difference between motive, mechanism, and result

This important distinction avoids misunderstandings and helps solve problems at the root cause.


A man wanted to paint a room in his house. So he got a can of paint, set it in the middle of the room, dropped a couple sticks of high power explosive into it and detonated them. Unfortunately, the explosion destroyed the house.

Onlookers had a few ideas on what happened. “This guy tried to blow up his own house!” said one.

“Nope,” said the other. “He wanted to see what would happen if he blew up a can of paint.”

Both conclusions seem valid, but we know – because we’re telling the story here – that they’re both wrong. The man wanted to paint a room in his house,not blow it up. However, observers of the ruined house assumed that was what he intended.

This leads to my central thesis. There are 3 components to every action:

  1. Motive: the man wanted to paint a room in his house.
  2. Mechanism (i.e. the “how” of the intent): he dropped explosives into a can of paint.
  3. Result: the house was destroyed.

This is an important point to grasp, because many “controversies” are due to conflation of some subset of those 3. Also, many corrective measures address only the result and or – if you’re lucky – mechanism without addressing the motive, resulting in Band-Aid solutions that don’t really solve the underlying problem(s).

I may write more about real world instances of this; for now I think this is a good anchor post that I can refer to in the future.

Author: jdrch

ISTJ, Rice Owl, UF Gator, mechanical engineer. STEM, sports, music, movies, humor. Account mine only & unaffiliated.


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