The Fatal Jump

'The Fatal Jump' by Greg Alder

A young woman dies. Cause of death is noted as cancer. There’s no denying that her body was riddled with it. However, what killed here wasn’t cancer. It was something more common than cancer and more difficult to fight.

She was killed by a conclusion.

She had presented herself to her doctor many times with various symptoms. Her doctor had told her she’d picked up something from her kids or she was working too hard or she was stressed. She kept returning to see him. He kept sending her home with advice or tablets.

He had come to the conclusion that she was a hypochondriac.

By the time cancer was diagnosed, it was too late.

When doctors jump to conclusions, the result can be fatal. Conclusions in business are seldom fatal, but they are often costly.

Modern ATMs were introduced by one of the world’s biggest banks several decades ago. The bank presumed that even though ATMs offered convenience, they would be unpopular. They expected that many customers would prefer face-to-face banking. The bank’s solution? They forced customers to use ATMs – unless they had $5000 or more in their account.

Guess what happened.

People with less than $5000 in their accounts objected to being discriminated against. They refused to use ATMs.

Noticing that customers weren’t using their ATMs, the bank concluded that their original impression – that ATMs would be unpopular – was correct.

They ripped out their ATMs, and wrote off the experiment as an expensive mistake.

It would be another bank that successfully introduced ATMs a few years later. When they installed their machines, they put no restrictions on who could use them. Needless to say, they were a big hit.

We jump to conclusions all the time. We are presented with a problem. We make an instant diagnosis. We believe we know the cause, and then we choose to act – or not act – based on this belief.

Experts jump to conclusions more frequently than novices. That’s because they have seen (or believe they have seen) this same problem many times in the past.

Having quickly identified the problem (or so they believe), they get to work fixing it. However, the longer they work at it, the more they  worry. They can’t understand why the remedies that have worked in the past aren’t working this time. They go through their remedy a second time, in case they missed an important step.

It takes a novice to ask the simple question – the question too simple for an expert to even consider:

“Is it plugged in?”

The real trick of expertise is to accumulate knowledge and skills, but to remain naïve and to resist jumping to conclusions.

Conclusions are killers.

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