Decision-Making Warning Flag 3 – Intellectually Empty Assertions

StrategyDriven Decision Making Warning Flag | Intellectually Empty AssertionIntellectually empty assertions represent logical laziness or deceit on the part of the individual(s) drawing these conclusions. Those making intellectually empty assertions do so without supporting facts, in contradiction of factual evidence, by incongruently combining two or more facts, through misapplication of real-world experiences or events, and/or commission of a logic error. (See StrategyDriven Decision-Making warning flag article, Logic Fallacies Introduction.) Such assertions are not presented as opinion, but are instead forcefully put forth as representing either unchallengeable facts or as the only logical conclusion one could draw from the complete set of facts. There is nothing logical about intellectually empty assertions. Rather, these assertions tend to be made by individuals based on their personal biases, goals, or opinions and may drive disastrous outcomes if acted upon.[wcm_restrict plans=”49486, 25542, 25653″]

Intellectually empty assertions are particularly dangerous when used to make decisions or to influence the decision-making of others. Conclusions drawn from intellectually empty assertions tend to be irrational and emotional if not outright wrong. Consequently, severe adverse outcomes can result from this intellectual laziness or deceit.

Why Intellectually Empty Assertions Are Accepted

Individuals are influenced by intellectually empty assertions for a number of seemingly plausible reasons. Below are a few common mechanisms that induce individuals to accept intellectually empty assertions:

Reputation Boosters: Individuals succeed at influencing others with intellectual empty assertions through the use of one or more of the following reputation boosters promoting their unsupported point of view:

  • Personal stature and/or charisma
  • Position and/or title
  • Academic credentials, whether actually earned or honorary
  • Direct and indirect association with others possessing some degree of the aforementioned reputation markers

Intellectual Laziness: Individuals who themselves are intellectually lazy or deceitful tend to accept the assertions of others possessing one or more of the aforementioned reputation boosters without themselves validating the underlying support for the assertions and forming their own rational, well-founded conclusions.

Need Fulfillment: Individuals having a strong emotional, financial, or other need fulfilled by the intellectually empty assertion may accept the assertion in order to satisfy their need.

Warning Flags Associated with Intellectually Empty Assertions

Intellectually empty assertions undermine sound decision-making. As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure inputs to and conclusions from the decision-making process are logically constructed from verifiable facts, relevant experience, and sound judgment. While not all inclusive, the four lists below, Process-Based Warning Flags, Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors, Potential, Observable Results, and Potential Causes, are designed to help organization leaders recognize and avoid intellectually lazy or deceitful decision-making. Only after a problem is recognized and its causes identified can the needed action be taken to move the organization toward improved performance.

Process-Based Warning Flags

  • Data gathering guidelines do not ensure the reputation and credibility data sources (see StrategyDriven Decision-Making best practice article, Diverse, Redundant Data Sources)
  • Inputs to the decision-making process are not required to be qualified, verified, and validated (see StrategyDriven Human Performance Management best practice article, Qualify, Verify, and Validate)
  • Underlying decision facts and/or assumptions are not documented
  • Decision-making process does not require the application of the Devil’s Advocate (see StrategyDriven Strategic Analysis best practice article, advocatus diaboli, The Devil’s Advocate)
  • Decision-making process does not provide for those resources necessary to reasonably alleviate time pressure (see StrategyDriven Decision-Making best practice article, Identify the Decision Timeframe)
  • Decision-making process does not adequately identify and recues those potentially having a conflict of interest with the decision to be made

Process Execution Warning Flags – Behaviors

  • Decision-makers overly rely on ‘gut instinct’ and ‘feel’ to make decisions
  • Underlying decision facts and/or assumptions are not presented or demanded
  • Validity of underlying decision facts and/or assumptions are based on reputation boosters rather than on the merit of the facts/assumptions themselves
  • Decision-makers and contributors judge information based on its source rather than its validity
  • Decision-makers and contributors argue that they do not have the time to further validate underlying decision facts and/or assumptions
  • Decision-makers and contributors overtly align underlying facts, assumptions, and conclusions with the perceived needs of the organization and/or members of the decision-making team
  • Information supporting a foregone or desired conclusion is not challenged
  • Information refuting a foregone or desired conclusion is not considered and/or its validity discounted

Potential, Observable Results

  • Outcomes achieved are contrary to those expected, typically failing to yield few if any of the desired results
  • Outcomes favor those making and possibly those accepting the intellectually empty assertions over others subjected to the decision’s impacts
  • Decision-makers blame other people and circumstances for the failure of their decisions to yield the predicted outcomes

Potential Causes

  • Individuals making and/or accepting the intellectually empty assertions seek to further a personal bias, goal, and/or agenda
  • Individuals making and/or accepting the intellectually empty assertions feel time pressure to reach a conclusion
  • Individuals making and/or accepting the intellectually empty assertions lack the training necessary to recognize this decision-making shortfall
  • Individuals accepting the intellectually empty assertions feel superior, peer, and/or subordinate pressure to do so

[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”49486, 25542, 25653″]

Hi there! Gain access to this article with a StrategyDriven Insights Library – Total Access subscription or buy access to the article itself.

Subscribe to the StrategyDriven Insights Library

Sign-up now for your StrategyDriven Insights Library – Total Access subscription for as low as $15 / month (paid annually).

Not sure? Click here to learn more.

Buy the Article

Don’t need a subscription? Buy access to Decision-Making Warning Flag 3 – Intellectually Empty Assertions for just $2!


About the Author

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *