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Ghost Patterns: Don’t Connect the Dots Too Soon

Last week we looked into the Hot Hand Fallacy.

If you missed it (or are new here this week), you can check it out here for a refresher on how random wins don’t always spell out a winning streak.

The Hot Hand Fallacy is part of a collection of cognitive illusions I call Ghost Patterns.

This week, let’s widen our knowledge of Ghost Patterns. Let’s tackle another nasty little monster that hijacks our decision-making: The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

🎯 Seeing Bullseyes in Randomness

A cowboy shoots some random shots at the side of his barn.

Then he paints̉ the bullseyes around the bullet holes.

It looks like he hit his targets with every single shot.

That’s the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. It’s when we impose patterns on random data, turning noise into a misleading signal.

In business, this means seeing random events as significant trends. Or cherry-picking data that confirms or our agenda, desires or insecurities.

You might see a spike in sales and believe it was your latest marketing tweak.

But was it cause and effect, or are you painting a bullseye around a random shot?

🧐 Why It Matters

The danger here is clear.

Misreading random events as patterns can lead us down the wrong paths. We end up doubling down on strategies that were irrelevant, or worse, harmful in the long run. We can lose focus and obsess over areas of business that make no impact.

💡 Bulletproofing Against False Patterns

  1. Question Your Conclusions: Before declaring a pattern, ask, “Could this be random?” Look for consistent, repeatable evidence.
  2. Get Outside Your Head: Find mentors or use data tools to verify trends or coincidences.
  3. Embrace Uncertainty: Not everything in business follows a neat, predictable pattern. Sometimes, randomness is exactly that – random.
  4. Stay Agile: Be ready to pivot, but based on evidence, not gut reactions. No data? Accept it’s a guess not a pattern.

In business, not every shot hits a bullseye.

And not every bullseye was the target.

It’s our job to know the difference.

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