Ladder Of Inference

Data is the first step on the ladder. We have limited ability to absorb the vast amount of data available in the world. Research shows that only 10% of data is actually consumed. We choose data. The data we choose is then given meaning. We then draw conclusions based on what we have added and take action.

When the results of our actions are used as data, the cycle starts again.

Our conclusions are formed over time. These filter the data that we choose and add meaning when we repeat the process. This illustrates the final point. Our mental models can be self-perpetuating and reinforce each other.


It is essential that we are able to make inferences, which allows us to quickly respond in emergency situations and act efficiently in routine situations.

We assume others see the world in the same way we do. We argue about the conclusions we reach when we disagree. We assume we are using the same data and that the meanings of these data are the same.

We “leap”, often without being aware of how high we have climbed.

These leaps are often made without ever testing our reasoning or the data that initiated the cycle.

Our conclusions can be taken to mean that we are correct.

Often, our beliefs and assumptions are private and not tested.

How to use the ladder of inference

The ladder of intelligence can be used as a conscious tool to increase collective intelligence. Try the steps below in low-risk situations and then try them in higher-stakes situations. You may not be comfortable having to have win/lose discussions with certain people. Be patient.

Name the assumptions that you make and how they influence your actions.

Play “defense” or “detective” to insist on the separation of the evidence and data. Pay attention to the conclusions that you mistakenly believe are facts.

Make recommendations and advocate for others.

Ask your friends and family to recommend you.

Ask people to clarify disagreements that are based on different data. What other data could impact these conclusions? What are some ways to increase the data pool?


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.