The forgotten art of being able to scepticize. (Episode 133)

The forgotten art of being able to scepticize. (Episode 133)

Interview with Frank Ferro, Director Insights at PostNL.

In 1924 Miguel de Unamuno wrote: “Sceptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found.”

One hundred years later this message is more important than ever.

The root of the word “sceptic” comes from the word “spek- meaning “to observe”.

To be a sceptic originally did not mean to be negative, it only meant to have an open mind and a broad view on a topic and to look closely at it.

And to “scepticize” is the act of being sceptical. It’s an actual word from the 1600s that, sadly, never caught on. We should bring it back. Because scepticizing has never been more important than now.

With stronger and stronger tools, such as AI and algorithms, what we humans can create is becoming more and more powerful, but with all new technologies there are also numerous potentially dangerous, negative or unwanted side effects.

Whenever we invent something new we need to be able to also identify these unwanted and unintended consequences, as well as the great ones.

To do this is a skill. A very important skill.

We often talk about the need to be able to say “What if…?” in order to be able to find new potential.

But we also need the ability to say “Yes, but what if…?” – in other words have the ability to see the less positive scenarios.

Doing this is not to be “negative”; it’s to be creative enough to see multiple scenarios.

It’s extra important when it comes to new technologies since the ethical aspects of them have not been discussed before.


This text was inspired by a conversation with Frank Ferro, Director Insights at PostNL, the postal company of the Netherlands. At his department, they develop powerful algorithms that affect millions. He told me about one time when the fraud detection team had developed an algorithm to identify customers who were underreporting the number of letters they were sending in order to pay less in postage. The solution was a great way to identify unethical customers. But Frank scepticized the solution and asked: “If the algorithm can detect companies that are underreporting the number of letters they send, can it also identify companies that are over-reporting the number of letters they send?”

The others in the team looked at him with confused faces. “We have never thought of this.”

Frank explained that wrongly overcharging customers was unethical, and if the algorithm could help them stop that it would be the right thing to do.


The trick to scepticizing, according to Frank Ferro, is to have the ability to withhold judgement. To take the time to reflect on as many alternative scenarios as possible in order to observe what you are working on from as many different ways as possible.

Scepticizing is a highly creative act.

One we should encourage more people to engage in.

“Want to discover your full creative potential? Then watch more episodes on YouTube and do not forget to subscribe.If you prefer to get new inspiring episodes straight into your inbox then sign up for the newsletter below."




Follow us