How To Avoid Dangerous Assumptions

Ladder of Inference

Today, I’d like to talk about ‘How to Avoid the  Dangers of Making Assumptions’. And there’s a very nice model, by a guy called, Chris Argyris. Who wrote a book, back in the 1990s, called Overcoming Organizational Defences. And he called it the  ‘Ladder of Inference’. 

“Assumptions, Beliefs and Actions”

And the way he illustrated it is that there’s a reality that is ‘Common  Reality’ that a large group of people can agree on. These are facts, irrefutable facts. However, what we do is with our little brains, because there are limitations in our brains. We will ‘Select little bits of that Reality’ and then interpret it in a particular way, based on our ‘Assumptions’ and our ‘Beliefs’. And that’s what gives us our ‘Actions’. 

So, for example with the lockdown, everyone had to just lockdown and then we realized that actually, we could still communicate a lot via zoom. So,  we were able to do a lot more remote working. Many businesses believed before lockdown  “that remote working would never work for us,  it’s just not viable. It’s not possible.”. And, now I’m seeing a lot of clients actually go completely virtual. Were there just dropping their offices all together! With us, what we found was, “Oh, training is so much,  you know, more engaging when it’s in a room”.

“Interpreted Reality and Selected Reality”

But we’ve now found lots of ways to be able to shift that. And go, “Well what’s the reality? The reality is that we’re still interacting. We can still see people, they can still see us.” And then if we take a selected amount of that reality, we go “Okay what is it that we need to do to make this really engaging?” And shift our interpretation of that reality, to say, “Okay, if we redesign the way that we do our programs”, check our ‘assumptions’ and go, “No, it cannot necessarily be the same as it was in a room. We need to use different techniques.

We need to use different approaches”. And our ‘belief’ is that is possible. By investigating, by exploring new ways of doing things. And, that gives us different ‘Actions’. So, there’s still a lot of people quite stuck in the old way of thinking. And, they’re just saying, “Oh we’ve got a training program, we’ll just do it online”. And, it’s really really boring and not engaging. And they go, “Oh this doesn’t work, it’s really bad”. Where in fact, what we’re finding is a different way of looking at things. That a lot of the training we’re now doing have more impact because of the way, the styles that we’re using, and the interactions and innovative techniques that we’re using. So, I’d like you to look at it whenever you’re in a situation where assumptions or actions are being taken. And you’re like, “Why are they doing that?”.  Is to explore what’s the ‘Reality’ people are looking at. What are the ‘Assumptions’ they’re making? What are the ‘Beliefs’ they have that give them those actions?  


So, when it comes to Assumptions.  

Stay Curious! 


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Remember . . . Stay Curious!


With best regards,

David Klaasen 

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©David Klaasen – 2014