Thanks to an ‘off the cuff’ comment from @semanticwill about ladders of inference, I started to think about it a bit more deeply.

We each have a rich set of different experiences in our lives that make us who we are. When we make assumptions about statements that others make, we can ‘race’ up our ladders of inference – this can happen on both sides of the conversation.

Our Ladders of Inference are Uniquely Our Own

We are advised to ‘walk back down’ our ladders of inference when we make assumptions, but what I had not thought about much was that some ladders can be short and others long. So if I am working with someone else rung by rung to unpack our assumptions, I should not be surprised if one of us only goes a couple of steps and the other many more.

Causal Chains

The method for Multi-Hypothesis research that Jabe Bloom describes in his Failing Well session is very useful for exploring ideas and gaining new insights to problems.

The main idea is to use ambiguity by presenting factual statements to a group and allowing each person to form their own opinions and conclusions about those facts.

Causal Chains

We ‘unpack’ what thoughts may have led to the original opinions and conclusions, some thoughts will be certainties that the facts are right or wrong and others will be guesses and doubts.

  • Guesses and doubts are then explored to find ways that we can conduct tests or experiments in order to learn – the focus being on the smallest effort we can invest in order to learn something useful, regardless of the test failing or succeeding.
  • Certainties are sometimes worth testing as well – in the picture above, we try to invalidate gravity by throwing a ball – if it did not fall, we would be surprised and have a great opportunity for learning.

This workshop method can be completed in as little as 60 minutes with a small group, 90 minutes is comfortable for a group of about 10 people. It is a great way to get a lot of ideas in a short time and to shed some biases in our thinking by allowing many different points of view.


There are many ways to improve the way we work.


Agile, Lean, Cynefin, Lean Startup, Kanban, XP, TDD, BDD, Srcum – these are just a few.

There are also many ways to apply these approaches to the way we work.

Ways to Approach

As a ‘pure’ method, a set of principles, a staring point, assembling a mixture of approaches appropriate to the problem we are trying to solve.

The great thing is that it gives us many combinations to try so that we can find solutions that suit the outcomes we are aiming for.

The down side is that it can be very hard to choose an approach – what has worked for one place, can be difficult to apply to another and get the same outcomes.