When conducting analysis, don’t jump to conclusions too quickly

The following diagrams, copied from De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, provides a great example of why we should avoid jumping to decisions too early when analysing research findings. If we jump to conclusions too early, we run the serious risk of not getting to the most elegant solution.

De Bono’s puzzle involves adding together a number of objects. With each new object the challenge is to create a regular shaped object.

Step 1 is to put the following objects together…


Having successfully turned these into a square, we then have another object to add…


Turning this into a rectangle is fairly straightforward for anyone, but then it gets a bit trickier…


Having scratched out heads a bit, you’ll end at the final challenge…


Now this is a bit tricky and for most people there will be no obvious way of turning this collection of objects into a regular shape.

How often have you brushed a research finding under the carpet because it didn’t fit with the mental model of the findings you were developing?

The trick is to deconstruct the objects each time a new object is added.

The solution is as follows…



4 responses to “When conducting analysis, don’t jump to conclusions too quickly

  1. So just as we tend towards more familiar shapes (the square in steps 1-5 of the first attempt above) when performing analysis we gravitate towards conclusions that belie our own perspectives and bias?

  2. simplerisbetter

    @Patrick – Yeah I suppose there are two points here aren’t there. What I was getting at was that we should resist building a mental model/recommendation/whatever for as long as possible.

    But you’re right, we so often look at things for what is familiar and comfortable. Rather than what might be different. It is certainly safer (though incredibly dull) to just map things back to our familiar map of the terrain.

  3. But I think we have no choice but too map them back to our own reality. And it’s OK to do so, as long as we realise we tend to want to “form squares” and deliberately look for other less comfortable solutions to the puzzle (ie meanings behind the data we are analysing, to translate the metaphor).

  4. Showing this to a colleague just now and we realised it also nicely illustrates a third point – that an iterative approach to design can result in painting yourself into a corner.

    @Iain I’d disagree though that the solution to this problem is to hold off on formulating a design for as long as possible.

    One of the principles of Agile Design which I don’t think gets enough attention is the idea that you should be ready and comfortable with completely tearing down and rebuilding whatever you have now, that the work already done and dusted isn’t sacred. I’ve often seen only a half-way execution of this idea, being refactoring of existing work in the manner of tweaking and polishing .. but not wholesale tear-down and rebuild.

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