A blog by Peter Stinckens
“Look”, he said, “Woman just can’t handle a job like this, that’s why we prefer man for our executive jobs”. I was surprised and – needles to say – I did absolutely not agree with him. So I asked him how he came to that conclusion. “Well”, he replied, “how many woman do you see in executive functions? Right, not that many, so there’s your proof!”
This conversation happened in 1986. I was talking to a potential employer, an all male bastion. I hadn’t left the university that long ago, and remembered my classes in logic very well. So I tried to explain that he was reasoning in a circle. He explained the cause by using the consequences of it. Well, I guess I was too much of a ‘troublemaker’, so I didn’t get the job.
A few days ago, I had a conversation with a potential client. He claimed that his results where below the expectations because everyone in the marked was doing poorly. Again, a logic mistake, because some of his competitors were growing fast.
Between these two logic mistakes, lies a vast period of almost thirty years. And, ever since that first confrontation with the poor logic we use, I’ve been on high alert for all mistakes people make when drawing logical conclusions. And – perhaps its no surprise to you – I find dozens of them every day.
Politicians make them all the time (it’s hard to find a politician who doesn’t sin against the rules of logic), entrepreneurs make them, doctors, sales reps, managers, the postman, you and me. Logic just isn’t our brains strong suit. The problem is not su much that we’re not that good in logical reasoning, the problem is that we don’t even pay attention to it.
When talking about matters of the heart, we all accept that logic is not in order. An argument could be made against that statement, but OK. However when talking about our own actions and the results they bring, it becomes another story. So to help you get better in understanding yourself and the world around you, here are the five most common mistakes in logic reasoning we make.
This one goes like this. A cat has four legs, my dog has four legs, and therefor my dog is a cat. The most common place you’ll find this mistake, is with managers, entrepreneurs and business gurus. We see someone who is successful or a successful company. Then we take one or a few aspects of that success and try to emulate that. Proof is irrelevant. Just take a few examples and people will believe it.
This mistake you can find all around you. We do something that works (by luck, circumstances or whatever). Then we look at what we have done, and find the cause of this success in the part of our actions that we think is responsible for that and repeat that action in the hope of getting the same results.
This is exactly how superstition comes to life. We see a black cat and bump into a ladder. So, next time we see a black cat, we expect to bump into something. The circumstances, which are predominant, are ignored. (eg. We where distracted, we where thinking about something else…).
Sometimes we accept the authority of certain people as an absolute. (Especially in religion this is the most common logical flaw). Whatever they say is considered to be the truth.
How many managers do you know, that accept a certain model or system as the absolute truth, just because some guru told them so? What are the things you believe, just because someone told you so?
This is the argument so many of us use to win a discussion. We’ve done the math. And yes, if you’ve done the math, and you didn’t make a mistake, you’ve proved that specific point of view. Didn’t you? But that math is always dependent on the parameters you choose to measure.
This kind of proof is only valid if you’re working in a closed and simple system. It doesn’t work in real life, because there are so many parameters involved that it’s impossible to do the math.
How often have you used this phrase? We all used it at one time or another. We find justification in numbers. If everyone (and usually is only a part of everyone) says so, it has to be the truth. That’s how the ‘fact’ that the earth is flat was defended for centuries. And everyone knew that the earth was the center of the universe. And everyone knew that iron couldn’t float. The list is endless. Statistically you could make an argument that if everyone says so, it’s probably wrong.
Ignoring logic is not something that seems to be so bad. (We all do). However it can have serious repercussions on what you can achieve (or the many things you will miss out on).
Ignoring logic is most probably the one thing that limits our results the most. It leads us towards ineffective ways of working and counterproductive systems. In other words, you’re missing out on results, without knowing it.