Smart Thinking

VPEC-T as a Kettle Logic Trap

Understanding KETTLE LOGIC a type of informal fallacy in which multiple arguments are used to defend a point, but the arguments themselves are inconsistent.

KETTLE LOGIC is a type of informal fallacy in which multiple arguments are used to defend a point, but the arguments themselves are inconsistent.

Inconsistent Explanation

Kettle Logic takes its name from a story related by Freud, of a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. The neighbour offered three inconsistent arguments:

  1. That the kettle had been returned undamaged
  2. That the kettle was already damaged when it was borrowed
  3. That the kettle had never been borrowed it in the first place

The inconsistency of argument is of course problematic, it would have been better if the neighbour had only chosen one.


Kettle Logic

“It was a sewing machine when I borrowed it.”

Trapping Kettle Logic

Argument of this nature will be familiar to landlords (“it may have been on the inventory, but it was never in the property”, “it was damaged before I arrived”, “are you sure it was a kettle”, “perhaps it was a different kettle”).

Kettle Logic is a real issue in business. Freud’s example presents three clearly inconsistent arguments. Business problems tend to present much more subtle inconsistencies.

This highlights a need for a Kettle Logic Trap to collate and detect contradictions in requirements, problem statements, hypotheses, business goals, strategy, risks and issues and organisational tensions.


VPEC-T is a systems thinking framework that guides problem solving using five dimensions, namely Values, Policy, Events, Content and Trust. The Values and Trust dimensions are particularly interesting in relation to Kettle Logic. The former, in the sense of personal and organisational values, and Trust in the sense of the nature of the contradictory argument (deliberate, accidental, concealment, openness etc.).

Lost in Translation (origins of VPEC-T)

Trust in VPEC-T is concerned with the trusting (or otherwise) relationship between all parties engaged in a value system where Trust will be based on intimacy of the parties, one party’s credibility in the eyes of another, and the risks involved. Trust values change with time and circumstances. [source: Wikipedia]

The neighbour presenting the contradictory arguments above will quickly lose credibility and trust. Using VPEC-T filters in ‘real-world’ problem solving will help with detection of contradictory arguments emanating from interest groups, coalitions, and individual stakeholders.

The Creative Problem Solver: 12 Smart Problem-Solving Tools to Solve Any Business Challenge

Kettle Logic (as described above) attempts to shift blame and introduce confusion. Contradiction and confusion may equally be introduced accidentally. Without a ‘detect and resolve’ mechanism there is a danger that Kettle Logic will linger, possibly trapping the problem solver into dealing with the contradiction in system design (solving the wrong problem) rather than identifying and removing fallacious argument.

Further Reading on Creative Problem Solving

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.