Thursday, 31 May 2012

The "Ladder of Inference" reveals our hidden mental models

The Ladder of Inference (from Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline Fieldbook) is one of the most insightful tools you can use to help you uncover mental models to see "why you think the way you do" about something or someone. Like all the best ladders there are 7 steps on the ladder of inference (starting at the bottom rung and working upwards):

1. Observable Data
 2. I Select "data" from what I observe e.g. Fred yawned
  3. I add Meaning (cultural and personal) e.g. Fred wants me to shut up
   4. I make Assumptions based on the meaning e.g. Fred is bored
    5. I draw Conclusions e.g. Fred thinks I dont know what I am talking about
     6. I adopt Beliefs about the World e.g. Fred is a threat to me
      7. I take Actions based on my beliefs e.g I will plot against Fred

Now this all started with Fred's yawn and all the inferences I made about it. Fred might have had a late night, a sick partner or child or could be be suffering from jet lag but I never considered or explored any of these other options or I might have ended up in a very different place!

Ken Thompson (aka The BumbleBee) blogs about bioteams, virtual collaboration and business simulation at