Assumptions and how to challenge them

What are Assumptions?

On a daily basis we all make assumptions. Some are conscious however many of them are unconscious. Those that are unconscious have become habitual ways of thinking.

Assumptions serve a useful purpose

They provide a short cut in our thinking. For example, I assume that health professionals care about my health when I go to see them. I don’t need to think this through, although with any new practitioner I may be wary and check out my assumptions in advance by seeking feedback from others. On the other hand if I am walking down a city street at night and I hear footsteps coming up behind me I assume that I could be in danger and start to react.

What happens when we make assumptions?

We often receive self-confirming feedback. Perhaps not always in the case of the danger at night, thank goodness. However, if we assume that someone is going to act towards us in a positive way then we show this in our attitude towards them and it normally gets reciprocated. Equally if we assume someone will be hostile, our actions show this and this is also often reciprocated.

The Ladder of Inference

I have written previously about assumptions and referred to a framework called a Ladder of Inference first proposed by  Chris Argyris. 

As you can see from this, we observe something, select data from this observation, add meaning to this date and then make assumptions, which in time lead to beliefs and eventually turn into actions

Assumptions over time become beliefs

As a result turn into ‘facts’. In organisations this is how group think and mind sets develop. Sometimes it needs a new person to come in and challenge these assumptions in order to break out of set ways of thinking.

Challenging our Assumptions

There are techniques  that can help challenge assumptions

The first way in which you can challenge assumptions is to work backwards down the ladder of Inference.  Check out how your beliefs and assumptions were formed. Did you ignore any other relevant data?

In Creative Problem Solving (CPS),  it is crucial that assumptions are challenged in order to address the core problem and find effective solutions.

An exercise I have found very useful in working to challenge assumptions in any particular situation is one developed by Peter Senge, based upon the ladder of inference, called The Left Hand Column.

Take a piece of paper and draw two columns. On the right hand side you state the facts, or what was said in a situation. Against each of these points on the left hand side you write what you were thinking.

As this shows the progression of thoughts and the development of assumptions in any situation, it can throw light on our perception of a situation. It can be very helpful in surfacing assumptions in any situation and can lead to an analysis of why challenging situations have arisen.

Another way to challenge assumptions

Ensure that there is diversity in any team and to invite in people from different backgrounds. In CPS terms this is known as ‘fresh eye’, as people from different backgrounds will most likely have different perceptions to any problem.

Do you have any examples of ways in which assumptions are challenged?

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

The Importance of Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why some people always respond in the same way in certain situations? In the workplace, when faced with change, one response often heard is ‘well we have already tried this, and it didn’t work’.

Another is ‘yes that’s a good idea but…

What is a Mindset?

These responses are signs of a mindset. The mindset in this example is that of a having a negative response to the world around us. Although an overworked cliche, it’s the way of seeing the world as a glass half empty rather than a glass half full.

Mind sets are ways in which we habitually respond to our world and represent our prevailing attitudes. They develop from the way we perceive and how we interpret those perceptions.   As they have become habits we often use them without thinking. They can become automatic.

A Positive v. Negative Mindset

Some mind sets, such as the one I have mentioned above can have negative consequences both for ourselves and others around us. If we are continually responding with a ‘yes, but’, then people will stop involving us in new projects. We will be always putting up barriers. Continue reading “The Importance of Mindsets”

Habits that inhibit success for women

It seems that every day I receive an email offering advice on habits. The popularity of neuroscience has spurned an interest in how our brains work and what we can do about it. Habits are such simple things. Developed over time, they become enduring and quite resistant to change. They serve a purpose for us, in that they short-cut the need to think about how we behave in certain situations, and they reap rewards when that purpose is served. Continue reading “Habits that inhibit success for women”

Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals

Going with the FlowThe start of a New Year always brings out a lot of advice on setting goals and making New Year resolutions, so in this post I am going to discuss some of the issues I see with setting goals and compare the rational, logical approach of setting SMART goals to the more intuitive approach of ‘going with the flow’.

On  a personal note I have always been a bit averse to the setting of goals, especially the setting of SMART  goals. However I confess to spending some time at the start of every year reflecting on my future path. As a strong P in MBTI terms, setting actual goals seems to be a constraint too far and I feel much more in tune with the concept of going with the flow! Continue reading “Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals”

Why image based creative tools are better than words

Recently I have facilitated  three creative workshops, 2 which were focused on creative problem solving and one which was a process of personal development. The common denominator in each was not just that they were creative but that I used drawing, images and collage as tools in the process. The results underline the value in using image based work in problem solving and change. Continue reading “Why image based creative tools are better than words”

The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Do you recognize this feeling? You are about to step into a networking meeting or planning a meeting with a potential client and you have this message popping into your head – ‘these people will realize I am not that good’ or ‘I can’t handle this, I am a fraud.’ Then you are not alone. For example, Liz Bingham, managing partner Ernst & Young , once thought to herself: “What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out.” Maya Angelou has been reported as saying “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”
Continue reading “The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it”

Working to our Strengths is Energising

Focussing on improving or eliminating our weaknesses is the most important aspect of personal development, right? No wrong! When we focus on our weaknesses the messages we take on unconsciously is that we are not good at things.

This  tendency to focus on our weaknesses  is not helped by the constant corporate insistence on measurement against targets. I have worked with many leaders giving feedback on a 360 degree process and in the main the first focus is  what are their weaknesses and how does this effect their performance? Continue reading “Working to our Strengths is Energising”

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’IMG_0916

These words had been going around my head for weeks since I heard the Damon Albarn song ‘Mr Tembo’.

Somehow it has particularly resonated as I was facing a not unexpected but nevertheless unsettling change in my career. Continue reading “‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change”

What is really important in a change programme?

I recently came across a very interesting article about Kaizen methods
of change which led to me revisiting the concept of Kaizen and change. I have always understood Kaizen to be about facilitating change through small steps. In fact the original Kaizen approach, as declared by the Kaizen Institute , emphasizes that it is not just about small steps, rather it is about everyone being involved in change. Continue reading “What is really important in a change programme?”

Life is lived forward and understood backward

To quote Mintzberg whom I referenced in my last blogpost , ‘As Kierkegaard once observed, life is lived forward but understood backward. Managers may have to live strategy in the future, but they must understand it through the past’

At the point at which events happen we often cannot totally understand their meaning and certainly not their full implication. We can only infer what this may mean in the future. However we can and should look back and reflect how events have shaped where and who we are now in order to move forward. Continue reading “Life is lived forward and understood backward”