Further up the ladder of inference

15 02 2009

I’m grateful for the interest in this blog. The hit count has now passed 2000 as I record my learning journey into Clinical Leadership through Action Research. One of the posts that has received the most hits has been on The Ladder of Inference and I intend to further explore that as a necessary part of my Thesis on the “Interaction between Clinicians and Medical Management.”


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What did you see?

Anything else other than a simple description?

The Ladder of Inference, originally described by Agyris and further developed by Senge in the book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook looks into our perception of the world. From the information provided we select pieces of data. Upon this  assumptions are made and then conclusions are drawn. These are then filtered according to beliefs and understandings of our world and ultimately actions are then taken. Diagram here.

Going back to the photograph provided I would expect most people would recognise a sheep. Was it a happy sheep? Did the straw make you feel comfortable about the sheep’s well-being? How about the backdrop of bricks? Is that her pen or even the slaughterhouse? Did you perhaps recognise the image as one of photos that changed the world? If you now recognise “Dolly the Sheep,” does that change how you feel about the image and perhaps how Dolly was “conceived” and even your feelings about how long she survived and ultimately died?

Of course it does. That is the ladder of inference.  It affects every single piece of information and interaction we have and we must be aware how our perceptions change. Going back to the sheep, do you now feel positive or negative about her? Does the brick wall of the pen make you angry that she wasn’t allowed to roam a hillside or knowing that people vowed to kill her make it understandable she had to spend all her life in secure circumstances? This is how information changes our perceptions.

Clearly, in all our interactions, whether they are social or professional there is a ladder of inference.  The temptation of “jumping to conclusions” based on previous experiences and interpretations, each with their own inference, must be addressed. In order to overcome these, we first of all should critically accept the existence of such perceptions and then utilise both inquiry and advocacy seeking the true, rather than filtered or blinkered data from the source before make our actions explicit and understandable on the basis of the truth.

Leading by example may encourage others to do the same.

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