The Ladder of Inference

I have been introduced recently to this concept of the ‘ladder of inference’. Here is a short presentation on it that I have received from a friend. I hope you may find it as useful as I did. However, before that, here is a short video presentation about it.

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The Ladder of Inference was first put forward by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. (You may find the book also HERE, in PDF form. There may be much much more to dig there. 🙂 )

The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. The thinking stages can be seen as rungs on a ladder and are shown in the below picture.

Peter Senge - The Ladder of Inference

Further details about each of the steps on the ladder are as follows:

  • I observe objectively – Observation by itself is not a biased activity. When I observe I see what happens, hear what was said, or experience a situation – no more and no less.
  • I select data from what I observe – Here is where the filtering begins. I create assumptions about which parts of the event I have observed are important. This assumption about importance is based on how the things that have been observed affect me, or fit into my cultural experience. A person from one culture may not understand the significance of events that occur within another culture. Culture can be large (a country, religious group, political party, or shared language), or small (individual, family, or workgroup).
  • I add meaning to what I have selected – At this point, I imply meaning using the norms of my culture, or experience.

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Here is another model of the ladder:

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