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Accomplish 20 Times as Much by Avoiding Bad Assumptions That Misdirect Your Efforts

The misconception stall is particularly harmful because some of your best people already realize that you are operating on faulty assumptions. Since actions based on those assumptions are folly, these key employees are losing faith in the future of the organization and the quality of its leadership. Soon, you may find recovery from your mistakes is made more difficult as your most talented people seek other opportunities.

MISCONCEPTION: The Danger of False Assumptions Abounds

How is a misconception stall different from a disbelief stall? A disbelief stall is based on something that was once true, but no longer is. A misconception stall is based on a belief that was never true. Here are some examples of harmful misconceptions:

o The future can be accurately forecast.

o Competitors will stand still while we make rapid progress.

o Agreement among colleagues means that issues are understood.

o Customers will make the decisions in the same ways they always have.

All long-held assumptions and beliefs should be questioned. Ask yourself:

o Is it really true?

o If it isn’t true, why do people believe it to be true?

o What’s needed to persuade people to change their beliefs?

Round Out Your View

When only an experiment will do, cross-check your idea in other ways to get a better sense of what you are about to try. Consider Columbus. While some feared sailing west across the Atlantic believing they would fall off the edge of the Earth, Columbus knew better. He had made a point of studying the early Viking explorations of North America. In fact, in 1477, 15 years before heading toward the Caribbean, Columbus visited Iceland to learn more about the northern “islands” across the Atlantic.

Apply Sophisticated Thinking

In his wonderful book, The Unschooled Mind (Basic Books, 1991), cognitive psychologist Professor Howard Gardner argues that people usually think at three different levels. Gardner defines the five-year-old’s mind as the first level. Five-year-olds usually live in a world 먹튀검증 where others take care of them and keep them safe from harm. That belief persists when most people become adults and prevents many from becoming independent, fully functioning adults. Overprotection after age five makes matters worse. Another common example of the five-year-old mind is that confident people falsely believe that they are superior in every way to others. Ask any roomful of five-year-olds if they are terrific at something and almost all will agree.

The second level of thinking develops when training, usually in high school and college, gives teens and young adults a grasp of sophisticated concepts that are counterintuitive to the five-year-old’s thought process. Here’s the problem: The student memorizes the concepts long enough to pass the examination. But Gardner argues that relatively few adults reach the third level of thinking where they can apply the sophisticated concepts to real-life problems. In the absence of that faculty, almost everyone reverts to the five-year-old’s misconceptions for making decisions.

The person who can apply the principles learned in school to a real-life situation becomes a disciplinary expert. But those effectively working minds are few and far between in most organizations. Imagine what could be accomplished if you consciously shed your five-year-old’s misconceptions, applied sophisticated adult reasoning to expert knowledge, and questioned common assumptions of the prevailing five-year-old mind.


Even if people attempt to apply sophisticated thinking, they will still jump to conclusions too often. If service was slow the last two times you went to a given store, you may decide this store will always offer poor service and don’t go back. Two experiences do not constitute a trend. It’s possible that the manager was away on vacation on both occasions and the rest of the employees took it easy.

The executives of one award-winning multibillion-dollar manufacturer were clearly intelligent, well educated, and widely admired for their decisions. Ever curious, these managers wanted to measure the quality of their decisions. They knew good decision making has to reflect solid statistically based data, and they wondered what statisticians would say about their decisions. Statisticians were assigned to follow the executives around for six months to watch them in action. Almost without exception the executives treated random events as representing what was typically occurring in the business.

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