3 mins read

Don’t be binary

You are likely to be wrong (at some point)

What and who can we trust

This is a #ThinkingOutLoud blog around who and what can you trust…. in anything (including what’s believed to be ‘credible’ research).

Firstly I have Ed Cope and Mike Ashford to thank for the fuel and provocation behind what follows. Their recent online sessions hosted by Sports Scotland’s very own Derek O’Riordan have made me think…

Don’t worry this will not be a re-citation of these sessions but more a sense making story that has unfolded within me.

Stuff that made me think:

Don’t be ‘Binary’ – to be binary is to assume there is a winner and a loser, a right and a wrong. This way of thinking will bite you. If I’ve learnt anything, holding fast to hard to one position means you mis the value in the alternative. Derek O has often share the phrase ‘and/both’ which gives permission for more than one ‘right answer’. So yes – ‘advocate your position (based on what you know now), but be open to influence (based on what you are about to learn). Move beyond the binary (either or)!


Don’t be held hostage – are you wedded to your practice, fixed in one mode of operating or one school of thought. Have you chosen to believe in X therefore you cannot believe in Y (cognitivism vs behaviourism). Your bias and personal biography can get in the way of finding the truth. You don’t need to abandon your paradigm to change your methods.


Confident humility – just one definition here states this involves being proud of our strengths and accomplishments (what you know) and also knowing and working on our weaknesses (what we don’t know). And with this come the frame of ‘certainty’. Being in search of certainty to give yourself a sense of ‘security’ could lead you down a path of ‘pseudoscience’ or as Ed puts it ‘baloneyism’. Attempting to prove your point at the expense of the truth.“No theory can explain everything”. We must ask is our certainty warranted – is the evidence there to support the certainty?


All research is fallible – Ok this one was hard to acknowledge, even though I knew it I didn’t want to accept it. I love a good journal article. It helps me build and trust my practice. However we must acknowledge the fallibility of the research lies in the fallibility of the researcher (we are only human). Most measures of things like learning are measures by ‘proxy’ (an indirect measure of the desired outcome). They can at best infer by correlation, they may well be based on assumptions!

But this doesn’t mean research is bad – its based in the best available evidence, whilst limited its what we have. We just must be careful not to talk beyond what it is telling us, our interpretation of this is always a deviation from the actual – Don’t justify what you are saying by misrepresenting something else…(paraphrasing Ed)

Be your own critical friend

If it is true that all research is fallible who and what do we trust? Maybe you can only trust yourself and what you know/learn?

From Mike “we have to find our own way, our own evidence informed way within our context”

So whats your personal framework for ‘belief’ – how do you make decisions about what you will believe in? Consider ‘wayfinding’ – build your systems that guide you through the experience toward personal trust – these are my thoughts:

  1. Seek out information – for and against any perspective you have (from multiple sources)
  2. Seek counsel – from more knowledgable others (these people my not have formal credentials)
  3. Be curious – ask yourself and others the how, why, what’s etc..
  4. Go test – play with what you have become to know, to see if it is as you expect it to be


Doing this will help you close the gap on doubt, give you some certainty, but acknowledge as you learn more your perspective may (and potentially should) change (don’t be fixed).

From Ed “We create our arguments by misrepresenting other peoples arguments”, so lets try improve our professional judgement and decision making by avoiding this…


There has never been so much research available to us, yet we know and perhaps can trust less. This thing (learning) we are trying to measure is immeasurable. If we are honest it can’t be truly measured, because our tools however ‘evidence informed’ they can’t be whole heartily trusted. They are only ever an inference of the actual. Our tools may detect change, record recall but is this ‘learning’?

Therefore – based on the best available evidence , don’t talk beyond it, don’t misrepresent what you know to prove a point beyond the evidence you have.

Some final advice from Ed and Mike:

Ed Cope “Don’t talk over or passed each other, ground discussion in practice”

Mike Ashford “it’s not about being right, this is just the evidence”…. 

If you are interested in more musing on learning get in touch – go on click here

Kurt Ewald Lindley – Be less binary