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An Exercise In Deduction, what do these shoes tell you?

In the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes is able to see what everyone else misses. He has a unique ability to observe and make inferences based on what he sees. It's one of the things that impresses us. But what happens when we try to test our abilities as amateur sleuths?

In the images below, I have provided a picture of a boot that belongs to me. What do you see? Let's apply some lessons that we learn from Holmes and see if we can improve our deductive skills.



"Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details." - A Case of Identity, Holmes

The first thing we should do is observe with intention and focus on details. We don't want to make any deductions just yet. Simply observe. But don't be general in your observations. Describe the boots in detail. Tip: Write down your observations on a piece of paper. This will force you to slow down as you look at every image.

Have you done it? What did you write down? Here are my notes so you can compare.

Top left image:

Shoe Deduction

Black sole. Tread around the end of the heal is worn down. I see particles of dirt or sand speckled around the sole. There are some kind of red coloring at different spots. There is a tiny hole by the cross like emblem. The shoe says, "ALDO" in all caps and surrounded by a rectangle. There is a little bit of a color change from the heel and the middle of the boot. It looks more grey. A bit of dirt or clay has been caked over the letter "O" on the word ALDO.

Middle Image:


The boot is in good shape on this part of the boot. The grooves are not worn down. There are five cross like emblems in the center of the boot. There is a concentration of some kind of hardened dirt, clay or poop. There are similar speckled sand particles on the boot as found in the first image. There is also some sort of sphere at the bottom left.

Right Image:


The back of the shoe has some paint smeared against it. The shoe looks like it has lost some of it's color. They appear blackish but the leather has been stripped away on the left side. I can see there is a zipper on the right side of the boot. There are other things to observe like the binding at the back of the shoe where the leather meets. There are stitches at the top, etc...The heel looks pretty well distressed.

Bottom Left Image:


The outside of the shoe really has a lot of discoloration. It has been worn down pretty well. I can see the black and has been rubbed off. The new coloration is almost a greenish one. The lace looks in good order. The heel looks okay from the outside but looks like where the heel meets the bottom of the boot it has been separated a little.



"I make a point of never having any prejudices, and of following docilely where fact may lead me." - Reigate Squares

Now that we have made some observations, let's let the facts lead us to some inferences. But first, let's take a moment to appreciate what we are doing. We are carving out time from our daily lives to improve our ability to deduce. Let's celebrate that. Do a dance or put a smile on. Way to go.

Okay, let's get back on track. Where do the facts take us? The shoes are pretty well worn and old. The discoloration tell us that. Aldo is a company established in 1972, so they have experience making shoes. We can presume they make a shoe that can last. The fact that they are leather additionally tells us that maybe these shoes were costly.

The tiny hole in the shoe tells us that I stepped on an object that punctured the rubber. This tells us that I must be a man of some weight. Since there is only one of these holes in the sole, it was a singular event. Either the item that caused it was really sharp and protruding or I had cause to step really hard.

The back of the heel is worn down but the front of the shoe isn't. This tells us that I mainly step with my heel leading into my steps, that is, I'm not flat footed. It also tells us that I must have worn the shoe for some time to wear down the back of the heel.

At some stage I allowed white paint to get on them. Considering I kept the shoe long enough to let them get discolored indicates how much I liked the shoe. The paint then was an accident or an indication that I no longer cared about the boot and would allow paint to get on them.

The dirt and caked clay tell us that I had last been walking, not in the city upon pavement, but upon country or rustic terrain. The caked on substance also suggests it was possibly wet when I wore them last, otherwise why would the clay cake onto the boot.



Crossing the bridge from observation to deduction is always a little tricky. If you need some help with this part, that's okay, I'm right here. Once we have observed and allowed our facts to lead us to conclusions we need to get into the head space of a story teller. We also need a host of other analytical skills to ensure that our conclusions are accurate. Here are some tips that I think will help out.

Here's a tip I always use when I think I have reached a conclusion about something: Don't reach for details that aren't there. This can be pretty challenging. A lot of what we see, our brains can easily distort and replace. Our observations can shift and be replaced with details we never saw. So don't reach for details that don't exist and stick to the facts. This may mean going over your notes again. This may mean re-observing. Whatever you have to do to get the facts, and stick with the facts, please take this time to do so.

Gather context clues to help you reach a more accurate conclusion. When making a deduction, consider what the facts say about the person by comparing them to the other facts. For example, if a person has a shelf in their home that is covered in dust, it could mean a number of things. Perhaps they are to busy to clean. Maybe they are lazy and don't like cleaning up dust. Maybe that shelf is hard for them to reach so they leave it dusty. Are there any other shelves in their house that are dusty? Getting as much context and comparing pieces of information will help you to construct a deduction that makes sense.

Infer the meaning behind why some things are and some things aren't. Sometimes our conclusions about things can be inaccurate because we don't know how to apply meaning to what we have seen. Let's go back to our example of the dusty shelf to illustrate this point. Let's say that the one shelf was dusty. All the other ones had been cleaned. The shelf is within reach of the person so. So why didn't they clean it? There are no nick knacks, no family urn, no family Bible. It's just a dusty shelf. What does that mean to us as observers? How do we describe the meaning behind this behavior? Here are some examples of how I would describe this behavior:

  • Distracted

  • Disrupted

  • Not in the habit of checking your work

  • I observe you recently decided to clean up a bit.

  • Forgetful

  • You have good intentions

You can probably build your own narrative on each of the words or phrases I wrote in the bullet points. Finding meaning in events sometimes requires us to work backwards based on what we see. What would cause a person to clean up every other shelf in their house, but neglect the one? It becomes obvious that if we were cleaning and we came to the last shelf, we would probably finish the project. Why bother getting that far with cleaning, only to stop before the end?

The conclusion we reach is the person probably got distracted by something and never came back to the task. But, that doesn't sound like a deduction Holmes would make. It sort of sounds lame. To make this sound like something more than an observation, we need to add meaning to it. For example, "I observe that one of your shelves are dusty (Observation). You recently decided to clean up. I say recent because there is one shelf that still has dust on it. If you hadn't cleaned up recently, all the shelves would have dust. (Deduction)" Now that's more like it. You give it a shot. Take one of the bullet points and describe your meaning. If you chose, "you have good intentions" explain why. If you chose, "I see that you're not in the habit of checking your work" explain the meaning behind this statement.

Okay, so are you ready? Once you read below this line you should have spent some time coming up with your own deduction based on your observations of the pictures. Let's do this.



"You've been in a rustic area. I observe you aren't flat footed. You're a man who is responsible and not frivolous but can be a bit careless at times. You have a contradictory personality and or are bad with maintenance. You are in the habit of wearing pants."

Let's take each of these statements one by one.

You're a man who is responsible - Anyone who wears a shoe long enough for them to wear down the back heel tells us I am responsible.

Not frivolous - Shoes can easily be replaced yet I wear the same ones long enough to get discoloration, this tells us I'm not frivolous and adds to the statement of me being responsible. I use my things long enough for someone to observe this.

Can be a bit careless at times - The paint on the back of the shoe tells us I was careless enough to allow paint on a leather shoe and the lack of repair or maintenance tells us that I was careless. The front of the shoe isn't worn out so there was life left in the shoe. This means I didn't treat the shoe with leather conditioner. Careless

You have a contradictory personality and or are bad with maintenance - who holds onto a nice leather shoe for so long only to let them get discolored and worn even though they still have life in them. Either I have elements of being contrary or I am bad with maintaining things.

You've been in a rustic area - the dirt and clay tell us this, although the state of the heel may tell us that I was in the habit of wearing them on pavement.

You are in the habit of wearing pants - Who buys boots, only to wear them with shorts. The amount of wear and tear tell us I have worn the shoes a lot. Therefore we can conclude I have worn them with pants a lot. (I'm not Lara Croft, haha.)

So how did you do? I bet you did great. If you think you didn't, think again. Your deduction may have been different than mine. Perhaps you saw things I didn't and that's okay. But the very act of us spending time, practicing our skills, makes us that much better at thinking like Sherlock. Celebrate that. Even if you just decided to read the article and not do a deduction, celebrate that. You spending time reading instead of watching television, is enough for me to say, "way to go".

Thank you so much for reading the blog and look forward to more posts like this one in the future. If you thought this article was great, why not share it with a friend, family member, or coworker or even social media. If you want to continue to improve your skills, I will be right here to share the journey with you, as well as every other reader of this blog. We are rooting for you. Get out there and love to learn again.

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