Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 45;   November 10, 2010:

How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics

by

Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, in an illustration by Sidney Paget, captioned "Holmes gave me a sketch of the events." The illustration was originally published in 1892 in The Strand magazine to accompany a story called The Adventure of Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is in this story that the following dialog occurs:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

From this, Holmes deduces that the dog's master was the villain. This is an example of what I here call "Look for what's not there."

Original book illustration, courtesy Wikimedia.

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 important
character 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Durable Agreements  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum)Action Item Avoidance
In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
A portrait of Matthew Lyon, printer, farmer, soldier, politicianHow to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste
When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
American Eclipse, an American racehorse who lived from 1814 to 1847Holding Back: II
Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams. Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort they could contribute.
A home officeAnticipating Absence: Quarantine and Isolation
When the pandemic compels some knowledge workers to quarantine or isolate, we tend to treat them as if they were totally unavailable. But if they're willing and able to work, even part-time, they might be able to continue to contribute. To make this happen, work out conditions in advance.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Bottom: Aerial view of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. Top: Inside the Forth Rail Bridge, from a ScotRail 158 on August 22, 1999.Coming June 1: Mental Accounting and Technical Debt
In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community, including a concept they call mental accounting. Available here and by RSS on June 1.
A goose and goslingsAnd on June 8: Flexible Queue Management
In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste of time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management. Available here and by RSS on June 8.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.