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Jumping to conclusions and stomping on facts

Heather Grace. 07 July 2014, 11:29 am
Jumping to conclusions and stomping on facts

Have you ever heard a little bit of information about something, or somebody, and made up your mind that you know the full story? You've used your own brilliant logic to fill in the gaps in the information you have heard and now you are convinced that you know all the facts? In other words you "jumped to conclusions".

I'm pretty sure we've all done this at some stage. But why do we do it? And can we be damaging our minds when we do?

When we don't know something, we feel the need to fill the blanks. We speculate, we guess, we try out different scenarios in our minds. If we don't know the whole story, we make up our own version to fit with what little information we do know.

Sometimes the real story is not available, like when an aeroplane drops out of the sky for no discernable reason. Bit facts are waiting to be discovered, if we investigate.

Why don't we ask questions and find out the real story? Perhaps we are too embarrassed or don't wish to appear nosey. But there may be other reasons.

We may have come across similar situations before, and we may assume that we have filled in all the blanks based on past experience.

Hypothetical Billy

Let's say you meet your new colleague, Billy, for the first time. Billy has long curly hair and a nervous smile. He has joined the team to work on a highly paid special project and apparently has all sorts of tertiary qualifications to do this task. Before you really get to know Billy, you learn through a "friend of a friend" that Billy left school at the age of 15.

Something doesn't add up. You know for a fact that Billy dropped out of school at 15. So how can he claim to have tertiary qualifications? Is he a fraud? Can he be trusted?

Your mind goes to work. You don't want to ask Billy-that would be embarrassing. Why did Billy drop out of school? Life experience kicks in and you try to remember kids you knew at school who dropped out early. Some were pretty lazy and never did their homework. Some were just plain stupid and others were expelled for doing all sorts of bad stuff. Wow, you conclude, "Billy must have been some kind of bad kid, and now he must be lying and cheating his way into top jobs."

This is where you damage your mind. These sour thoughts can "pickle" your mind in relation to the facts.

You watch everything Billy does, waiting to catch him out. You look for clues to back up your theory. You become mired in preconceptions. Why does he go by Billy, and not William? Why does he have that nervous smile? You might see him in the office late in the evening and assume the worst. In fact, everything Billy does seems to reinforce your now concrete theory that Billy cannot be trusted.

The problem is you have it all wrong. The real story is that Billy did leave school at the age of 15, only he left with a scholarship. He was a brilliant student, flew through school a little ahead of his years and went on to complete some high level research projects a few years later. Yes he is a little eccentric with his hairstyle and he prefers "Billy" because he finds "William" a little too formal. The reason he is often in the office late is because he is absolutely dedicated to his task and fascinated with the work he is doing.

Unfortunately by the time you find out the truth, you have wasted so much time suspicious of Billy that you never got to know the real person. Your mind has been tainted by the "evidence" you had built up, and changing now is like trying to wash the smell out of a pickle jar.

That is the damage to your mind. If only you had summoned up the courage to ask some questions at the start and listened to the real story. I hope you will next time.

Success With Grace is home of the TechBiz Success Academy, specialising in helping technology based businesses grow. For information about TechBiz training and coaching please contact Heather Grace directly


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Gordon Milne 11 July 2014, 2:33 pm

Your "own brilliant logic" is sometimes forged in the "furnace of hard-won experience".

You leap because you are familiar with the pattern.

Of course, I did not equate "left school" with "dropped out".

Mario Marzuki 17 July 2014, 12:23 pm

Great writeup Heather, just when I needed to hear it.

Our brain is trained to recognise patterns and respond quickly (often without inadequate information) for survival reasons.

So patterns are useful and this is where I agree with Gordon's comment - but that's not what the article is about, is it?

The problem is when you don't have enough information to recognise that pattern yet - and your brain *starts making up facts to fill the gaps* in order to FIT into patterns which you are already used to.

In a nutshell: you don't need all the facts to recognise a pattern - but make sure you have enough before making a good guess.

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