The 180 Rule & the Ladder of Inference by Bud Taylor

Ladder of InferenceAs an innovator I wondered why The 180 Rule works.

Then it struck me. The 180 Rule challenges the Ladder of Inference. You know, our bias toward efficient decision making. We couldn’t get out of the house in the morning if we questioned our every decision; so, we quickly go from the pool of available information around us and run up the ladder to conclude that we will wear our brown shoes.

The ladder of Inference is great for choosing shoes, but not so great for making higher order decisions. Often our biases bring us to wrong conclusions. Here’s an example.

I spent more than two years in South Korea helping Korean Telecom build it’s organizational innovation capability. In a foreign land you often long for your native language. One day I was at breakfast watching the BBC International on a wall TV. A scroll ran across the bottom of the screen reading “A bus driver accused Mathew Fox (the star of Lost) of assault three days after an incident.” Wow. Pretty cool. Sounds like Fox and the driver got into some kind of scuffle – maybe a traffic accident – and after the incident the driver learned that Fox was a celebrity so the driver decided to sue.

Well, not quite. When I got back to my apartment that night the incident was being reported on English TV. I was caught high up the Ladder of Inference. There were several key facts that were not revealed in the morning scroll, like:
• The bus driver was a woman,
• The incident took place outside a bar, and
• Fox and the bus driver were on a date.

The key to the Ladder of Inference is not how quickly you climb it, but whether you question it – on each rung and certainly when you reach the top? Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen off the first rung had I not assumed that all bus drivers are men.

The 180 Rule stops the Ladder of Inference in its tracks by using our Negativity Bias The 180 Rule to expose our biases before we use them.

This is invaluable to me when working with clients. It’s impossible to generate creative ideas by projecting up the Ladder of Inference. The best you will do is find incremental improvements of “faster, better, cheaper.” The 180 Rule lets me get clients out of their traditional mind set.

For example, recently I was working with a national consumer goods brand. It wanted to extend the success of one of its products into a higher target market. The basic plan was to enhance the product and then leverage its brand in the premium market. I challenged my clients with The 180 Rule. We examined all the things we could do to ensure a failed launch of the new product. We learned that the worst thing we could do was leverage the equity of the mass-market brand into the premium market. Even if the target market liked the product, it would reject the brand.

Happily, the enhanced product found itself packaged within a new brand and has found a profitable home with its new consumers. The 180 Rule stopped the product launch from the top of the Ladder of Inference.

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Author: Bud Taylor
The 180 Rule for Innovation