Don’t jump to conclusions…

It’s human nature; we find the quickest way to apply a map to a single fact and extrapolate from it grand conclusions. From one thought, one idea, one expereince we feel we can answer all, now and forever. The biologists say it’s evolutionary. It’s hard wired in us, and it’s part of what makes us greater than the apes.

But that same capability can lead down dark paths to inaccurate points of view, to unsubstantiated conjectures and apparently conclusive but erroneous beliefs that we cling to as if they were universally true.

“We are in an ontological pickle” a friend told me recently, and she was right. We need and want to take our point of view, our existing infrastructural codes and apply them as quickly as possible against the fog of facts that surrounds us. If you are not big or strong or armored (or poisonous) being able to do that is what keeps you from being eaten on the savanna. But as useful as this instinct is against what’s hunting you, it’s not as functional in the modern world.

So I suggest a “Rule of Three”. It’s somewhat along the lines of the effective executive coaching trick that goes “If one person tells you you’re a horse tell them to get lost. If a second person tells you you’re a horse, take heed, but  tell them to get lost also. If a third person tells you you’re a horse, maybe it’s time to get a saddle…”

I suggest that one point, one opinion, one fact tells you little that should be generalized. From one point we know neither direction, vector, nor surface. Given two points, now we have a line and can dismiss from our thinking many options not along that way. But it is not till we have three points, three facts, three experiences that we can talk about location, direction, and using the language of geometry, with three points we have a plane.

I feel comfortable making a decision standing on a plane. It feels more secure, certainly more so than swaying on a line, and I feel much surer on a surface than on the wobbly head of a pin. Who knows where you might fall from that point. So for me at least, deciding with no less than three keeps me from getting into a pickle.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted October 28, 08 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I apply this same logic to buying music albums. There need to be three great singles in order to justify buying the whole album. One and Two just won’t do. The Rule of Three is a good application in MANY instances… =)

  2. Doug
    Posted October 28, 08 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks Erin,

    Who ever said that philosophy doesn’t matter…

  3. Mike Ebmeier
    Posted May 18, 10 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    One of the quotes that has become part of my foundational set of ideas come from political scientist, C. Richard Hoffstetter. I don’t recall the book, but the quote was, “Sometimes there’s nothing more misleading than personal experience.”. It referred to the errant inference of causality.

  4. Posted May 18, 10 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    They guys at McKinsey has been doing a lot of work in this area….

    “Yet very few corporate strategists making important decisions consciously take into account the cognitive biases—systematic tendencies to deviate from rational calculations—revealed by behavioral economics. It’s easy to see why: unlike in fields such as finance and marketing, where executives can use psychology to make the most of the biases residing in others, in strategic decision making leaders need to recognize their own biases. So despite growing awareness of behavioral economics and numerous efforts by management writers, including ourselves, to make the case for its application, most executives have a justifiably difficult time knowing how to harness its power.”

    http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/The_case_for_behavioral_strategy_2551

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