Assumptions – Asking the Obvious
Testing assumptions makes you look stupid or misinformed.
“You can be perfectly clear and perfectly wrong.”
Karen Martin, “The Outstanding Organization.”
Assumptions are unquestioned “truths.” Everyone knows the answer to the obvious. Why don’t you?
Assumptions create false confidence by preventing obvious questions.
ultimately distill into malaise.
Finding clarity is simple. Ask obvious questions that probe assumptions. In other words, ask questions that make you look dumb.
Asking the obvious:
Successful leaders persistently challenge assumptions with simple questions. Four questions enable organizational clarity. Don’t assume the answers are obvious.
- Who is your external customer?
- What value do you deliver to that customer?
- Who, in your company, delivers that value?
- How do they deliver that value?
Bonus: How do you communicate your value to current customers?
Clarity concerning customers:
Karen suggests asking:
- Who do you serve?
- How do they make money?
- What problem are you solving for them?
- Why do they choose your company…?
- How do they use the goods or services you provide?
Clarity concerning value:
“Hallmark may produce greeting cards, but its value lies in helping people communicate a feeling….” Karen Martin.
Conversations that distinguish value from product enlighten organizations to their purpose. Karen says shifting from product to value reflects a shift in perspective.
- Product question: “What do we make?”
- Value question: “What do they get?”
Others explain your value. You can’t.
Clarity through conversation:
Karen suggests conversations produce clarity. When was the last time you sat with a customer to get to know them?
Clarity through failure:
A client of mine lost a client, recently. Rather than writing them off, they met with them to explore what went wrong. The value they didn’t deliver explains the value they must deliver. (Assuming that client is one they want to serve.)
Read chapter one of Karen’s book: “The Outstanding Organization.” Absolutely no obligation or email required.
How have you seen or experienced the danger of assumptions?
How can leaders uncover assumptions and create clarity?
Dan this is so great!!!!!
Buying Karen’s book today!
Rooting-tooting, common sense declaring, simplicity exposing Karen Martin!
Big fan, big fan.
Thanks for this info Dan.
Hi Scott! I’d love to get your feedback after you read it. Cheers!
Good questions Dan.
We uncover assumptions by looking for the “why” behind or beneath them. Organizations grow stagnant and do things the “way we’ve always done it” and stop looking at their initial reasoning.
Re-investigating the “why” will usually reveal fresh data, perspectives, and new ways of accomplishing the same old thing in a new way. Or, it will validate the process or procedure. In the case of the latter, newer people to the organization will be brought to a new level of understanding, increasing their chances of buying in.
And, yes I have seen organizations crumble under the weight of holding on to and living in an uninvestigated past fueling their current assumptions.
Thank you Martin. I always enjoy reading your insights. Thanks for adding the “Why” to this conversation. Right on!
Whys can make you wise!
I am sometimes astounded when in operations reviews and other such meetings, someone will ask what seems like an obvious question… and we all go “huh…” I suppose that’s why we do such reviews. Sometimes it takes someone outside of the immediate scene to see the important, yet obvious, questions.
Thank you Karen. Few things are more useful than outsiders when it comes to seeing ourselves. Assuming we listen. I always appreciate your insights.
Great topic, our brain thinks so fast and then we go on to the next thing–we assume that co-workers, those above and below us can understand what is in our mind. All we need is a nod from them to ensure that we BELIEVE they know the topic completely, like what is in our brain. Teachers and coaches (not picking on them – I am one) are notorious about this. Then when the students or athletes perform below expectations, we (they) blame the student/athletes. I will try to use my tremendous teaching salary to buy this book:) Good topic. Enjoy all you do.
Thank you Joe. I enjoyed your contribution until…”Then when the students or athletes perform below expectations, we (they) blame the student/athletes.” OUCH! So true it burns.
Every hear yourself saying, “Didn’t I tell you…..?” Or “I thought I said…”
I have to stop writing because it’s hurting too much!
To quote the old phrase – ” don’t assume – it makes an ass out of u and me!” Having long made a living out of asking what often seem to me obvious and even stupid questions, your post and Karen’s work are great reminders.
Thank you DAvid, I assumed and hoped someone would bring up that saying… 🙂 I almost used it for a title …
If someone hadn’t I was gonna! A favorite saying from an old retired cop I used to know. Definitely a job where you don’t dare assume anything!
Nice post, thank you. Making each individual’s important assumptions explicit are an important step toward group alignment.
In addition to asking questions themselves, leaders can go a step further by posing open questions to their team and allowing them to share their answers. In my experience this leads to very good conversations and opportunities for clarity as people come up with different answers.
Thank you Henry. YOu give us a very practical step forward. Assumptions give the false impression we are aligned.
I know a guy who “assumes” everything and he drives me up the wall!
Nice post, good stuff as usual.
I assume it would.. 🙂 cheeers
“Ask questions that make you look dumb”– yes, but only temporarily! As the marketplace continues to shift, this becomes more & more important. Will your customers be willing to have this conversation with you? Can’t hurt to ask. As a person whose purchase choices are frequently based on good or bad customer service, if a company asked me why I didn’t buy from them (and seemed concerned about winning back my business), I’d be happy to tell them.
Thank you Gary. The temporary side of looking dumb should help us have courage to ask “dumb” questions in the first place. I suppose we might cling to the nagging fear that what is obvious actually is obvious and we are out of the loop. I think that contingency is rare but it may make us hold our tongue.
I’m with you on truthfully answering questions. What I find is many don’t really want truthful answers.
These are all questions I ask when facilitating workshops. I very often get the, a”re you kidding me look” when I ask them who their customers are but when the discussion starts, it turns out the answer is not as obvious as they thought. Thanks for the lead on the book. It has been purchased!
Thank you Laurie and enjoy the book.
I love that moment when we realize we didn’t know what we thought we knew. That’s the moment learning begins and change becomes possible.
Thanks for another timely post Dan! I am in the middle of a re-evaluation and regrouping stage for all things business, all things outside of family. (And maybe a little involving family.) Working on clarity and focus for direction, especially now that we have finally moved to a new home (something I’ve been waiting to fall into place for a long time – can you say “studio?”). Your post and Karen’s book are going to be helpful today as I sit down for some exploration today.
Thank you Julia. The book has much more than clarity as a condition for being outstanding…I’m confident it will be useful. You have my best wishes during re-evaluation time. Cheers
I have a habit every time I hear someone start a sentence with “Obviously…”. I ask myself “Test this statement. See if it’s as obvious as they think it is.”
Thank you Scott…and I thought you were a pussy cat…Now I see you’re a tiger! 🙂 Love your approach.
A truly brilliant post. We all assume in our lives. These assumptions are reflection of our inner world. When these reflections do not meet, we disappoint and frustrate ourselves. And then we perhaps introspect. I believe making assumption is very natural tendency but the more important thing to remember is what is the basis of our assumption. Is it our imagination, experience or something else. Generally wise people make assumption based on their experience and intellect. But fools and unwise people make assumption based on their convenience, comfort and interest. They do not account their experience and wisdom. And this assumption distinguishes a person wise or unwise.I strongly believe that danger of assumption without basis is irreparable. It repeatedly disappoint us because it is baseless. The simple way to turn baseless assumption into realistic assumption is to add evidence.
There are many things that we think do not require clarification and justification, but we need to question our assumption from time to time. Blind assumption is dangerous. Unrealistic assumption is frustrating and convenience assumption is fatal.