How to Walk–Rather than Jump–to Conclusions

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We would be better off it we approached our conclusions slowly instead of rushing to them. But we have a problem: we are uncomfortable living in the unknown. We would much prefer to have a simple story with a quick conclusion, even if that conclusion is wrong. Uncertainty disrupts our world and we need a conclusion to put it back in order.

Similarly, when leaders detect problems or notice unmet goals, it is only natural that they will make a beeline to the nearest conclusion and solution.

But arriving at the correct explanation and conclusion is difficult for a couple of reasons. For one, we live in a bafflingly complex world, and we gravitate towards simple explanations because they are easier to hold in our heads. But there’s also the problem of confirmation bias. We naturally seek out stories that confirm what we already believe. For example, if a guy in a green shirt stole candy from you when you were a child, you might have drawn the inference that people who wear green shirts are untrustworthy. From that moment on, you would then begin to subconsciously accept evidence that supports this conclusion and discard evidence that challenges it. This means that even if our biases are incorrect, they can still be incredibly hard to overcome.

Can we find a better way to find explanations and arrive at conclusions? Here’s how Sterling Integrators goes about helping its clients figure out what is really going on in their organizations without succumbing to pre-conceived biases and easy explanations:

“What are the Symptoms?”, not “Who or What Is the Problem?”:

Most clients come to Sterling Integrators with a problem, which is great: solving problems is what Sterling Integrators does. But it’s important to look at all the facts before speculating about how to solve something. Much like a physician, my work with a “patient” begins with each of us focusing on the symptoms, rather than the suspected cause of those symptoms. We need all the facts before we make a diagnosis of potential root causes.

Collect the Facts:

Sterling Integrators’s next step is to begin an assessment phase, which generally includes leadership and cultural assessment tools. Our assessments aggregate many perspectives and compare the results to thousands of other companies. By aggregating large amounts of data from your organization and comparing it to other organizations’ normative data we can minimize the effects of each individual’s personal biases and presumptions. We let the data speak, and we listen to what it has to say.

Create a Working Hypothesis:

As in a scientific experiment, Sterling Integrators and its clients work together to create a hypothesis. The hypothesis draws on the client’s experiences and the data in order to explain what is going wrong and to devise strategies that are highly likely to fix the problem. Our hypothesis is then validated or invalidated based on whether the strategies we deploy actually result in measurable improvement.

Analyzing and solving problems in this manner is an iterative process. It requires patience and discipline, which never comes easily. But with a good coach and a proven system, your organization can learn how to walk instead of running or jumping to conclusions.


Image credit: “Brain Thinking Conceptual On Green Chalkboard” by samuiblue at

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