The Ladder of Inference page
The Ladder of Inference
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook
. Copyright 1994 by Peter M. Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard B. Ross, and Bryan J.
Smith. Reprinted with permission.
[See also four
examples of the ladder of inference
We live in a world of self-generating beliefs which remain largely untested. We adopt those beliefs because they are based on conclusions,
which are inferred from what we observe, plus our past experience. Our ability to achieve the results we truly desire is eroded by our feelings
Our beliefs are the truth.
The truth is obvious.
Our beliefs are based on real data.
The data we select are the real data.
Fo example: I am standing before the executive team, making a presentation. They all seem engaged and alert, except for Larry, at the end of
the table, who seems bored out of his mind. He turns his dark, morose eyes away from me and puts his hand to his mouth. He doesn't ask
any questions until I'm almost done, when he breaks in: "I think we should ask for a full report." In this culture, that typically means, "Let's
move on." Everyone starts to shuffle their papers and put their notes away. Larry obviously thinks that I'm incompetent -- which is a shame,
because these ideas are exactly what his department needs. Now that I think of it, he's never liked my ideas. Clearly, Larry is a power-hungry
jerk. By the time I've returned to my seat, I've made a decision: I'm not going to include anything in my report that Larry can use. He wouldn't
read it, or, worse still, he'd just use it against me. It's too bad I have an enemy who's so prominent in the company.
In those few seconds before I take my seat, I have climbed up what Chris Argyris calls a "ladder of inference," -- a common mental pathway
of increasing abstraction, often leading to misguided beliefs:
I started with the observable data: Larry's comment, which is so self- evident that it would show up on a videotape recorder . . .