Ladder of inference tools? LO7088 -Exercise

Tue, 30 Apr 1996 08:33:00 +0000

Replying to LO7044 --

Thanks for posting the Tools of Inference message to the list. I'm glad I
was able to contribute something, as I get *so* much from the Learn-Org
list. I've received 6 messages requesting "The Story" and have forwarded to
you my standard response. If you believe it to be appropriate, please add
this posting to the list as well to save us all time in requesting/receiving
this information.

Thanks again for your efforts,
- James


>> The following message is best viewed using a fixed width font.

Thanks for your interest in the "tools of inference" referenced in my 
4/28/96 posting to the Learning Organization mailing list.  I've included 
The Story exercise below within the body of this message, and also as a 
MS-Word attachment.

[Host's Note: I've deleted the attachment; I don't distribute attached 
files over the LO list.  ...Rick]

My recommended approach for the exercise is to hand out a single page 
containing the four sentence story, and the 15 statements about the story. 
 (See the section of this message between the "~~~~~~~~~~".)

Inform participants that they have all the information they need to complete 
the exercise and that they *must* complete the statements independently and 
turn over their page when they have done so.  It is important to preclude 
any conversation about the exercise until all participants have turned over 
their pages and you have begun the  de-brief process.

For your own learning, you may wish to complete the exercise now and refer 
to the Debrief Process at the end of this message.  ;-)


James Ray
AT&T Solutions      Voice:    202-414-3905
Organizational Learning  Fax: 202-414-3855
Washington, D.C.    E-mail:

>>>>> The Story

A business man had just turned off the lights in the store when a man
appeared and demanded money.  The owner opened a cash register.  The
contents of the cash register were scooped up, and the man sped away.
A member of the police force was notified promptly.

Statements about the story (T/F)

1.   A man appeared after the owner had turned off his store lights.
2.   The robber was a man.
3.   The man who appeared did not demand money.
4.   The man who opened the cash register was the owner.
5.   The store owner scooped up the contents of the cash register and
     ran away.
6.   Someone opened a cash register.
7.   After the man who demanded the money scooped up the contents of
     the cash register, he ran away.
8.   While the cash register contained money the story does not state
     how much.
9.   The robber demanded money of the owner.
10.  A businessman had just turned off the lights when a man appeared
     in the store.
11.  It was broad daylight when the man appeared.
12.  The man who appeared opened the cash register.
13.  No one demanded money.
14.  The story concerns a series of events in which only three persons
     are referred to: the owner of the store, a man who demanded
     money, and a member of the police force.
15.  The following events were included in the story: Someone demanded
     money, a cash register was opened, its contents were scooped up,
     and a man dashed out of the store.

The story and statements are a portion of the "Uncritical Inference Test". 
copyrighted, 1955,1964,1967 by William V. Haney.

>>>>> Debrief Process

The first step in the de-brief is to list the numbers 1-15 on a flip-chart 
and, for each question, ask for a simple count of the individuals who 
answered the question True, False or with a "?".  Here again, it is 
important to remind participants to read directly from their answer sheet, 
regardless of whether they begin to doubt their original answers as the 
de-brief proceeds.  Defer all conversation until after you've gathered the 
data for all of the questions.

After you've completed the tally for all 15 questions, you may simply open 
the floor for conversation about the exercise.  You may wish to  ask 
participants to "rationalize" their answers to one or more questions where 
there seems to be divergent opinion in the group.  For example, question #1 
requires an assumption that the "business man" referenced in the story is 
also "the owner".

Only questions #3, #6 and #13 are unequivocably True or False based upon the 
*facts* contained in the story.  *All* other statements require an inference 
or assumption to be made before the question could be answered as True or 
False.  And remember, you should not ask participants to answer the 
statements as True or False; ask them only to "complete the statements" when 
you distribute the exercise.

As referenced in my earlier posting, I use "The Story" to introduce the 
Ladder of Inference and Angles of Inference models.  These "tools of 
inference" are then used to enable meaningful conversation during our work 
together as a small group.  I've included below some of the observations and 
insights gathered during my previous work with groups using this exercise.

I would welcome your input for improving this exercise, and/or your 
willingness to share your experiences using The Story or other exercises to 
introduce these valuable concepts.  Good luck!

>> Observations and Insights gathered from previous groups 

Assumptions often made by participants:
> if a statement is not definitively true, then it must be false
  (this assumption is reflective of linear thinking)
> it is inappropriate to challenge the -rules-, as represented by (T/F)
> -right vs. wrong- assumptions
> -win-lose- vs. -win-win- assumptions

Key learnings for participants:
> It is important to be aware of assumptions, and recognize one is
  making them, though sometimes it will be necessary to make
  assumptions (due to urgency of decisions, lacking complete
> Dynamic tension between speed of decisions and cost of gathering
  complete information (it is not practical to have all facts before
  making decisions; assumptions are necessary)
> Balance the need for task completion (certainty) with full
  consideration of the impact of each decision (made with incomplete
  information) upon the final conclusions
> Increased awareness and sharing of assumptions can improve decision
> Individuals often have different levels of comfort with making
  assumptions (i.e., ambiguity)
> Assumptions made by individuals (even for same questions) are
> Participants begin to recognize assumptions/inferences as they move
  down the list >> Lesson: continually assess environment and be
  willing to revisit decisions as new information becomes available
> Interdependence of assumptions increases the complexity tremendously


James Ray
AT&T Solutions      Voice:    202-414-3905
Organizational Learning  Fax: 202-414-3855
Washington, D.C.    E-mail:


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