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Volume 8  Number 10   |  October 2018

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People such as David Hume and John Locke espoused empirical reality. That is, we should act upon what is confirmed by experience, sight, and scientific inquiry, and not by perception, theory, or supposition.

I find that we too often venture into relying on what we’re told or read, but not on what we see. There is a famous, cynical test of this issue: “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?”

I’m writing this from a private lodge in Madikwe, South Africa. Among the dozens of animals we’ve seen on our first day here—including elephants, rhinos, wildebeests, impalas, giraffes, and kudus—are zebras. And therein is another axiom: “When you hear hoofbeats, you assume horses, not zebras.”

But not if you’re in Africa. And in business, we too often make assumptions (the “phenomenalism” school) based upon no evidence, but rather rumor, guesswork, and inference.

Maximizing success

I’ve found that by asking two questions, I can keep clients (or anyone else, for that matter—attorneys, mechanics, photographers) focused on the shortest routes to success:

  1. What is the evidence of your statement or conclusion?
  2. What is the observed behavior that leads you to that conclusion?

By forcing your clients to demonstrate the empirical evidence you discard the turf battles, personality conflicts, turf wars, emotionalism, and general inattention to objective reality that so often prevents quick resolution of issues. And, for that matter, asking yourself these questions will help you to get out of your own way.


Don’t try to please your client by agreeing too readily with non-empirical evidence. Verify and validate what you read and what you hear. And remember, in every organization I’ve ever visited, people truly believe and react to solely what they see.

© Alan Weiss 2018

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