Why Can We Look at the Same Thing and Come to Different Conclusions?

An old friend called me the other day and asked me this very question. I hear it from a lot of folks, so I did what I always do – I looked for science and theories that might give us an answer, and a handle on what we can do about it.

One answer, the Ladder of Inference, comes to us from Chris Argyris, a Harvard business professor who studied organizational learning. The ladder describes the process we go through, often without realizing it, when we are considering facts to help us make a decision. It goes like this:

At the bottom of the ladder is a pool of data. We select from that information based on our beliefs and prior experience. We use our selected information to affix meaning, make assumptions, and draw conclusions. Those conclusions reinforce our beliefs and determine what action we’ll take. And it all turns into a reflexive loop where our beliefs tend to affect what data we choose next time.

So, what if we want to break that loop? We need to challenge our assumptions. Todd Adams shares three ideas in his blog post:

Develop a clear understanding or who we are and what we believe.
This cannot be accomplished alone and requires a willingness to seek the thoughts of others and see oneself in an unvarnished way.

Challenge all assumptions.
Is what we believe hearsay?

Be willing to ask what other possibilities might be true.
When something happens, either good or bad, too often we cling to only one answer and ignore other possibilities. As you learn to look for other options, you will be surprised by the possibilities.

So why do you, as a grazier, care about this? Because it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing the right thing. Challenging our assumptions, considering a variety of possibilities, and choosing a diversity of data can help us be more creative and resilient. Most importantly, it builds and strengthens the most important tool you have: your brain!

Thanks for reading!

Kathy

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