Science has developed some powerful thinking tools which are in wide use in our society. Although the scientific method now seems obvious to us, and is taught to us at a young age, a technique such as logic is not really an inherently human characteristic - it is something we have learned.

As an example, I may observe a cyclist disobeying a traffic law - ignoring a red light. Then later I see a second and maybe a third cyclist do the same. By induction, I conclude that all cyclists are inconsiderate, irresponsible twits who ignore the rules of the road. Now here is the key piece. In science and technology if we create a rule like this one we keep on performing experiments to test the rule, keeping statistics on the observations. And good experimenters will look for data which proves an exception to the rule to find its limits.

But in other areas of life, our human tendency is to do the opposite. Once we have created a belief like the one about cyclists, we tend to notice evidence which supports our rule and ignore evidence which contradicts our rule. So if there are five cyclists waiting at a red light, we notice the one who jumps the light, reinforcing our belief about cyclists being inconsiderate and irresponsible. But this is not an accurate picture of reality. If we draw conclusions using our rule we are not thinking as well as we could.

The problem is not with our logic, it is with the rule and its application. If all cyclists disobeyed traffic signals, our conclusions would be accurate.

Here’s a simple tool I created that you can use in many situations as a check on your input processing. It’s called the ACORN test, and it’s basically a quick statistical analysis of your raw data. It is a way to consciously process your input information and rules to ensure more accurate analysis of situations.

When you find yourself using the words "always" or "never", mentally run the situation by the ACORN test. If "always," is it truly 100% of the time? If "never," is it 0%? Maybe it is closer to Commonly, Occasionally, or Rarely? (These equate to percentages of 80%, 50%, and 20%.) The statistical percentages for the middle three are not that important; the point is to do the conscious mental analysis.

Let me give you an example. If you have a colleague who is “always” late... are they late 100% of the time? Probably not. Maybe they are Commonly late - 80% of the time? It might turn out that when you consciously review your observations you find that it is more accurate to say they are Occasionally late - around 50% of the time.

If you complain to them about "always" being late (when they know they are not late all the time) you would start off with a conflict even before discussing the actual issue. With the ACORN test you now have more accurate data with which to approach this person.

Induction and the rules we create help us make sense of the world, but use them carefully. Use the ACORN technique and verify your data. Bring more of your processing into the conscious part of your brain. Then you’re on your way to Thinking for Results.

Author's Bio: 

Randy Park helps organizations expand their perceptions and perspectives. He helps create smarter organizations where employees make better decisions to save time and money. Look for his book "Thinking for Results" and contact Randy regarding programs at rp@ThinkingforResults.com.