Monday, January 23, 2012

Backing Up Your Statements

We have spoken about conducting discussions about important topics and how we can use the SPIRAL model as a guide for better discussions. We have spoken specifically about:

·         Categorizing the statements (claims) made into one of four categories.

·         Formulating good questions to investigate the basis for statements (questions are based on the statement’s category)

·         The three categories into which the responses to those questions will fall.

In other words, we have gotten through asking good questions and being given a response. We still have a very important part of the model to consider – analyzing the logic, the validity…the weight of the responses and the argument.  We will now start discussing how we analyze the logic of the statement(s) made in a discussion.

 There are five skills in which you will need some expertise, and each of them is easy to understand. Remember that you are likely already doing these things, but you may not know EXPLICITLY how you do them. Until you develop clarity regarding these elements, it is unlikely that you are consistent in your application and are not getting optimum results. Developing your skills in these areas will bring you an exceptional amount of confidence and credibility. We will discuss them one by one over the coming weeks.

They are:

1.       Accurately determining the threshold of acceptance of evidence (Certainty vs. Likelihood)

3.       Evaluating the construction of what is being said; which statements are made as claims and which are offered to support the claims (mapping)

4.       Evaluating the strength of the support being given (the power of the support lies in its likelihood of providing a correct conclusion)

5.       Evaluating the strength of the connection between the statement being supported and the support itself (the power of the connection lies in its likelihood of providing a correct conclusion).

Threshold of acceptance of evidence (Certainty vs. Likelihood)

The first thing we must consider is the threshold we are trying to reach. Must we be CERTAIN that we are correct? Must it be HIGHLY LIKELY if not certain? More likely than not?

 If we demand certainty in a given situation, then the quality, volume, and rigor of analysis are paramount. There are few cases in business in which certainty can be achieved. This is possible through a process called “deduction” which is notoriously slow and requires a great deal of input – two things that are in short supply in most cases. Even a capital crime requires just enough evidence to squelch “reasonable doubt”, and those discussions can go on for many years.

Generally, the degree of confidence (likelihood) of correctness is directly proportional to what is at risk. This is why I tell my students that it is important to understand the IMPACT and CONSEQUENCES associated with a given situation, and for the various participants in the discussion to vet those before too much discussion takes place. This prevents us from discussing things that really don’t warrant discussion (no impact on our business, regardless of our outcome), or requiring an inappropriately high level of likelihood when the risks are low (and vice versa).

In some cases, a consensus of opinion between a few observers is acceptable (if not much is riding on the outcome), but in the event that the company’s future is at stake, we would surely aim for a higher threshold.

The generally accepted ranking of evidence (think of this as the nature of the response you are given to a question) is as follows (low to high):

1.       Lay Opinion (opinion of a single non-expert)

2.       Consensus of Lay opinion (consensus opinion of several non-experts)

3.       Reasoned Lay Opinion OR Expert opinion (opinion of a single non-expert that has been vetted with stringency OR the opinion of an expert)

4.       Consensus of Expert opinion (consensus opinion of several experts)

5.       A study of expert opinion (consensus opinion of several experts, vetted with stringency)

6.       A consensus of studies (consensus opinion of several studies)

This doesn’t mean that an opinion is usually wrong. It means that when deciding the sufficiency of evidence, it is more likely to get better guidance the higher up you go on this list. Decisions on high risk items would demand a higher level of evidence due to the potential impact.

When is Evidence Sufficient (in order of sufficiency, high to low)?

·         When it leads to a conclusion with certainty

·         When it leads to a conclusion that has the force of probability

·         When it leads to a position that is demonstrably more reasonable

o   That means demonstrating stronger reasoning

Otherwise, it must be considered insufficient

Next time, we will talk about the most important skill you will ever develop.
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