leaps of abstraction: pattern unwisdom

Peter Senge et al published the classic The Fifth Discipline Field Book in 1994. A little section called Ladders of Influence was really helpful for me as I started to navigate the corporate world in the early 2000s, particularly as it related to the behaviour of executives. These days, as I think about pattern wisdom and the lens through which I make sense of the world, it serves as an ongoing warning reminder, that making leaps of abstraction, or what Senge et al refer to as 'going up ladders of inference' is a clear and present danger.

The illustration from p243 makes sense of the idea:

from The Fifth Discipline Field Book, Senge et al, p243

Here are a couple of examples from the book.

These examples remind us that, making interpretations of patterns, especially when it comes to forming judgements about people is a fool's game. There is always so much more to a story than the observable 'facts'. When it comes to other people, the only patterns we have observable access to are the external ones. Motivations, beliefs, values, cultural norms, psychological profiles, circumstantial context, personal history and the like are all hidden from us. It is therefore UNwise to form views about the why? based on the observable patterns alone. I have addressed the particulars of this in specific posts such as Personality and behaviour patterns, but the principle is generally applicable.

That does not mean of course that observable patterns have no relevance, in fact they are critical inputs in understanding people patterns. What they do however is invite further exploration, a curiosity if you like. 

For example, as I write the votes are being counted in the 2020 US Presidential election. Why is it that people vote for Donald Trump? An example of a leap of abstraction would be to assume that everyone who votes for him is a white supremacist. My working assumption is that everyone acts in a way that makes sense to them at the time. Those on the left tend to presume that everyone who votes conservative must be either entitled and doesn't care about those less privileged, or they are stupid or blind. We know that cannot be the case, so in order to understand the pattern (voting conservative) we have to dig much deeper than the observable pattern. The answers to the 'why?' questions are always much more complicated. There will always be a value set and some (often unconscious) fears that form people's worldview. Believing that my view of the world is THE truth, is the essence of UNwisdom.

Pattern wisdom does not make leaps of abstraction.