Challenging assumptions is a key approach to communicating, problem solving, innovating and creating. Too many times though people tell us to do this without really showing us how. If they do, they give simplified examples anyone can see. I focus on invisible assumptions. They guide our thinking without our knowledge.
To explain this, I will present a typical definition of an assumption. I’ll then give an obvious example. Afterwards, I’ll dive into invisible assumptions and give an example.
A typical, academic definition of an assumption is similar to this:
For instance, “That product won’t sell,” is an assumption by this definition. We are saying it won’t sell. We don’t offer any proof or evidence. “That product won’t sell because it’s very similar to the one we tried last year. It didn’t sell.” Here, we offer evidence.
The second statement in the link to the above statement is better:
For example, “Based on my experience that product won’t sell,” offers our experience as proof. Saying, “Based on my expertise in taking products to market,” offers our belief in the form of expertise as proof.
The problem remains though. What about unsaid statements and unconscious ideas? Three of us were preparing a block party. Two of us asked the third, “Could you go and get some ice?” Even though he was with us amongst five large coolers, he returned with only one bag of ice. It was barely enough for one cooler. We were stunned. What unsaid statements or unconscious ideas did we assume?
- He saw that we had five large coolers.
- He understood how much ice to get.
We neither asked nor thought of asking questions to clear these assumptions. Miscommunication occurred. Our ice problem remained.
Identifying assumptions trains our minds. Hidden ones exist in our everyday discussions. They create business problems. A challenging assumptions example helps us practice. Practice helps us train our minds to see assumptions. We can’t challenge what we can’t identify though.