When I taught MBA students, I explained that a theory was nothing more than a possible explanation of the facts.
Now these were just the facts that we knew about.
They weren’t necessarily the most important ones. In fact, they could easily have been the least significant ones.
And they weren’t all of the facts. They could've been a tiny percentage of what was still to be discovered.
Of course, those who love to expound their theories want you to believe the opposite. They want you to believe that they've discovered all of the most important facts, and that their interpretation is the only plausible explanation.
With good marketing, this is how many theories have come to be accepted as fact.
You have to be a critical, not to mention courageous, thinker to suggest that any particular theory is one possible explanation, but certainly not the only one.
This isn't some abstract, philosophical exercise. It matters to you because you make judgments every day based on the little that you know about something. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink! refers to this as thin-slicing. Your brain would be overwhelmed if you didn't do this to some extent, but the danger lies in doing it for everything.
Theories are imperfect
All theories are imperfect. In some respect, either a little or a lot, they’re wrong.
That has huge ramifications for the decisions that you make.
You see, if you imagine that something is true, then you'll act as if it is. You may not be aware that you're doing it, but you'll do it just the same.
It's why visualization can transform your life. When you see yourself doing what you want to do even before you do it, then it becomes easier to take the steps that are necessary to accomplish it.
That said, there's always the risk that you'll make a huge error in judgment because you failed to consider that what you knew about something wasn't the full story.
Suppose that you happen to see a friend walking on the other side of the street. You shout and wave, but the other person, while seeming to look at you, does nothing and continues to walk away.
How do you interpret that experience?
Does it make you suspicious of the other person? Do you conclude that you're no longer friends, and that the other person now hates you?
Believe it or not, there are societies in the world that would like you to think that way.
If that's what you do, how will it change the way you act towards them the next time they see you?
Another possible explanation
I've had people tell me that they've waved, said "Hi," and done so more than once while I was walking down the street.
Do you know why I haven't responded?
It's because I didn't see them.
Most of the time, I'm lost in my own thoughts. It's why I trip so easily when the surface changes suddenly. I'm not just not aware of that it has.
If you were to decide that I didn't like you any more because your theory was that if I did, I would've responded to you, then you'd be completely wrong. And you could damage our friendship by acting as if that was the case.
What does this mean for your business?
In your business, you need to remember that there are many reasons why some things happen and others don't, but must not allow your theories to deceive you.
You don't have full possession of the facts, and the facts that you have may not be the most important ones.
Reason with yourself. Think about what might be going on behind the scenes, and be open to explanations that may surprise you.
Doing so will make you more resilient in times of change, and that will make you a better business person.