In the first part of this series, we examined strategies for making good guesses — overall approaches that lead to excellent conjectures. Let's now turn to tactics for making good guesses based on what you see — and what you don't.
- Look for what's not there
- Many guesses involve recognizing the absence of something important. Some missing factors are obvious, such as gaps in a sequence, or something missing that's usually implied by something that's present. See "On Noticing," Point Lookout for May 2, 2012, for more.
- Other missing items are more difficult to notice. For instance, consider two factors present in the situation before you. Then ask, if these two are connected in some way, what would that connecting feature imply? That implied attribute of the situation might be missing. If it is, what does that tell you? See "On Noticing," Point Lookout for May 2, 2012, for more.
- Examine temporal sequences
- A temporal sequence is a sequence in which time of occurrence determines position in the sequence. Since time of occurrence is often confused with time of discovery or time of recognition, the first thing to sort out is temporal order.
- Once you know the order, you can reverse it, and consider whether the reversed sequence is actually possible. If the reversed sequence or any subset of it could have happened in that order, it's possible that the order you believe you have is actually incorrect. What if it is? What does that tell you?
- For people, focus on situation, not character
- When most of us conjecture what others will do in a given situation, we tend to put too much weight on their character or motivation, and too little weight on how they experience that situation. This error is so common that it has a name: the Fundamental Attribution Error.
- Since disregarding Many guesses involve
recognizing the absence
of something importantcharacter or motivation is also an error, keep it in the mix. But think much more about how the situation looks to the people in question. What will they know? What will they not know? How will their past experiences influence what they notice or don't notice? What are others hiding? What disinformation is present? Focus on trying to see things from their vantage point, and then project the decisions they're likely to make based on the information they have.
Most important, watch others. You probably know someone who makes consistently good guesses. Actually, you probably know more such people than you imagine you do. Many great guessers conceal from others — and sometimes themselves — that they're guessing. They present a demeanor of knowledge and confidence designed to conceal their guessing.
When someone appears to "know" something you think they might not actually know, make a note of it. Later, imagine how you would have made that guess. This exercise, repeated over time, gives you a chance to build your guessing skills. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to
avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering
this kind of knowledge more systematically.
- Dealing with Negative Progress
- Many project emergencies are actually the result of setbacks — negative progress. Sometimes these
mishaps are unavoidable, but often they're the result of patterns of organizational culture. How can
we reduce the incidence of setbacks?
- The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated
- In fiction and movies, the world is often simple. There's a protagonist, a goal, and a series of obstacles.
The protagonists and goals are good, and the obstacles are bad. Real life is more complicated.
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept,
such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all
solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for
another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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