Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 41;   October 14, 2009: Logically Illogical

# Logically Illogical

Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure. Here are just a few.

Faulty logic is one reason why groups make defective decisions. In long discussions, spanning many meetings, email messages and other postings, a chain of logic emerges. Usually, the chain is valid and coherent, but when the conversation becomes complex, when the stakes are high, or when time is short, a group can make logical errors. Here's a small collection.

The fallacy fallacy
If the argument used to reach our conclusions is later found to be flawed, we sometimes believe that the conclusion produced by that argument must also be false.
Not so. That we reached a particular conclusion by faulty logic doesn't mean that the conclusion itself is false. The conclusion might be true, or it might be false.
Sand castle fallacy
If the argument is founded on premises that later prove to be false, or partly false, we sometimes believe that the conclusion produced by that argument must also be false.
Not so. That we reached a particular conclusion based on faulty premises doesn't mean that the conclusion is false. We might have built a castle on sand, but it might still be a castle. If we can find a better foundation for that castle, it might yet prove durable.
Affirming a disjunct
If we know that A or B is true, and it turns out that A is true, we sometimes conclude that B must be false.
The fallacy here arises in instances when A and B are both true. In informal conversation, we often use "or" in the exclusive sense: either A or B, but not both. But in many situations, "or" actually is valid in the inclusive sense: A or B or possibly both A and B.
Affirming the consequent
When a conversation becomes
complex, when the stakes
are high, or when time
is short, a group can
make logical errors
In this error, sometimes called the converse error, we conclude incorrectly that a premise must be true if the conclusion is true. That is, when we know that P implies Q, and we know that Q holds, we wrongly conclude that P must also be true.
The problem here is that the converse of a true statement isn't necessarily true. The contrapositive is true, though: if not Q then not P.
Denying the antecedent
This formal fallacy, sometimes also called the inverse error, is committed when we know that if P, then Q. If we later find that P is false, we then sometimes conclude erroneously that Q is false.
All we can say for sure is that Q might be false when P is false; Q might also be true.

Keeping these errors and their names straight can be difficult, but learning to recognize and avoid them is certainly easier. There is a trap, though. Once you notice that a group has committed one of these errors, remember that it's often possible that their conclusion is correct. To forget that possibility is to commit the fallacy fallacy.

Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Conflict Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

## Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

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Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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