The fallacy of division is an error of reasoning. It occurs when we conclude that entity A, which is a member of class B, must have attribute C solely because class B has attribute C. For example, "Last year, our IT project budget overran the plan by 13%. All of our access management projects are IT projects. Therefore all of our access management projects overran the plan by 13%." Most of us can easily identify this fallacy when it's applied in such an artificial example.
Examples of the Fallacy of Division
In real life, the fallacy of division can be difficult to spot. When it escapes notice, trouble lurks. Here are five examples.
- Studies suggest that for software development projects, overall, Scrum has produced disappointing results
- Translation: Since we do most of our work as projects, Scrum will produce disappointing results if we try it for our projects.
- This line of reasoning ignores many possible conditions of the projects that were studied, including:
- Scrum might have been deployed in a defective manner
- The people using Scrum might not have been properly trained
- The people using Scrum might have opposed it and intentionally circumvented it
- The conclusion might be valid, but any possible basis for that conclusion is absent.
- Research has shown that in organizations generally, meetings are a wasteful way for teams to reach decisions
- Translation: Because we are an organization, and we conduct meetings, they will be a wasteful way for us to reach decisions.
- The problem here is that the reasoning fails to account for differences between the meetings as conducted in the studied organizations, and the meetings as conducted in "our" organization.
- Because sales will decline by 15% over the next three quarters, we must curtail spending across the board
- Translation: Every department, including the Sales Department, must reduce its spending by 15% over the next three quarters.
- In this In real life, the fallacy of division
can be difficult to spot. When it
escapes notice, trouble lurks.example, there is a hidden assumption that operating expenses are directly proportional to sales, which is almost certainly invalid. But even if it were a valid assumption, across-the-board expense reductions are rarely justifiable. This example actually advocates "level" reductions in the Sales Department, which is most likely counter-effective.
- Studies suggest that most corporate training is ineffective and wasteful
- Translation: We must immediately review our training programs. Unless our metrics can show that a training program is producing added value, we must terminate that program.
- This example shows how to avoid the Fallacy of Division by insisting that the problem of zero-value training be shown to be present in the organization before the training program is ended. However, it also illustrates the effect of succumbing to the fallacy, because the review of the training program suddenly appears on the organizational agenda. The hidden assumption is that if training programs are problematic elsewhere, they must be problematic here.
- Employee compensation accounts for 80% of expenses
- Translation: If we must reduce expenses by 10%, then 80% of that reduction must come from employee compensation.
- The error here is the idea that since employee compensation accounts for 80% of expenses, it must bear its "fair share" of the overall reduction. This approach is erroneous for multiple reasons. Some examples:
- It's possible that reducing employee compensation could reduce revenue even more.
- Opportunities for improving efficiency might not be evenly distributed across expense categories.
- The real problem might be that employee compensation is too low, which has limited the organization's ability to recruit the people needed to compete more effectively in the market.
Instances of the use of the Fallacy of Division escape notice, in part, because they seem so reasonable. Devious actors can use this property of the fallacy to persuade others to adopt positions that might be favorable to the devious actor, while harming the organization. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
- You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it.
Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas
without risk of getting even more work to do?
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
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doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- Bad Trouble: Misdirection
- When Bad Trouble develops at work we have a chance to see what our organizational cultures are made
of. Many of our colleagues respond constructively. When they don't, misdirection tactics are popular.
Here's a little catalog of misdirection responses.
- Bad Trouble: Coping strategies
- When Bad Trouble develops at work people make choices about coping. If they cope constructively, they
have choices about how to do that. Even those who don't cope constructively have choices. Here's a survey
of the wide range of choices people make.
See also Workplace Politics and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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