Interrogating Reality


idealism quote

Everyone has a Problem to Solve

As an instructional designer, it’s my job to add at least a little reality to a problem whenever possible. There are many times in a given week for the opportunity to promote analysis of a perceived problem. When a commonplace training request comes in from a manager, sometimes far removed from the area in need of training, it’s easy to just accept the request and develop training. However, the results are mediocre at best and rarely affect the real problem.

Here are some questions for managers to consider before assuming training is the solution (Mager and Pipe, 1984):

  • Why do I think there is a training need?
  • What is the difference between what is being done and what is supposed to be done?
  • What do I want people to do after training that they can’t do today?
  • What is the event that causes me to say that things aren’t right?
  • Why am I dissatisfied?

Sometimes one problem will eclipse the real problem and blind leaders to true organizational need(s). If Gilbert’s 6-box Behavioral Engineering Model is applied to the problem, there is a high probability that other solutions should be used as the treatments to the problem. 

Efficient analysis and additional information gathering for the business problem is always needed before jumping to conclusions with the manager requesting training. Gaps need to be identified, causes analyzed, extant data acquired, plans formulate, and presented to stakeholders – quickly if possible. 



Reality versus Biased Perception

John Lennon once said, “Reality leaves a lot to imagination.” Add distance from the problem or series of problems and reality becomes skewed by imagination, bias, perception, and a lot of other errors caused by mankind.  Without questioning the reality we perceive, we could be living within a Matrix-like fantasy island.

Recently, I attended a highly productive meeting designed to “interrogate reality.” During this exercise, we were able to interrogate or at least discuss the difference between two truths:

  • The Official Truth – This is the truth that everyone at the top of an organization subscribes to, models as a leader, writes in a lengthy mission statement, states as their value proposition to clients, et cetera. The official truth is the idealistic, perfect-world message.
  • The Ground Truth – The antithesis of the official truth is the Ground Truth. This is the reality seen objectively with qualitative and quantitative data to backup them claim. The truth.

After we reviewed all of our “Official” versus “Ground” truth, we started to identify our desired state. This looked similar to the official column but there was more opportunities for improvement. It was a simple and effective meeting to put reality in perspective and to question any idealistic blinders we may have had. There was more to this meeting, but this was a collaborative and timed way to challenge biases at the being of the meeting.

Official versus Ground Truth

Locating the Ground-level Truth

  1. Go to the “Ground Level” where the problem resides.  
  2. Listen without contrarian denial and dominating tactics. The HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) can destroy the truth.
  3. Hold Focus Groups or Interviews with the people dealing directly with the perceived problem.
  4. Ask questions! Use Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys! Ask probing questions! And be willing to accept their candid responses.
  5. Complete a Cause Analysis and create an Ishikawa Diagram or Fishbone Diagram
  6. Send out a survey or questionnaire. Before of trying to solve too many problems that may not be completely indicative of the ground level.


About @hoosier_teacher

Instructional Designer, I help make sense of workplace, work, and worker interactions in order to create comprehendible and practical training programs.