Assumptions make our lives easier. That’s both good news and bad. As creatures of habit, we seek efficiency through the use of assumptions in lieu of active thought to drive most of our behaviors. With few exceptions, what we do in any given 24-hour period demands little conscious thought because we’ve developed habits that help us accomplish all sorts of things.
For instance, while driving (even if you’re doing the speed limit), it’s quite common to pull your foot off the gas pedal when you see a police car ahead on the side of the road. In that instant, it seems like your foot has a mind of its own! What really happened is that you incorporated an assumption – that getting a ticket is a bad thing — to replace the thinking component of the “stimulus-thought-response” chain of events. In this example, no doubt, the assumption — or habit of thought — serves you well (this is the good news).
Unfortunately, however, that’s often not the case (this is the bad news). In a business, assumptions might include any of the following statements or beliefs:
“That won’t work here.”
“Change is risky.”
“I’ve seen this situation before.”
“We’re better than the competition.”
While some of our assumptions are useful in preventing us from having to consciously figure out the mechanics each time we confront a familiar situation, many habits of thought keep us from stretching our capabilities and trying new, and inventive, and possibly better ideas or techniques. Just like when you see a police car, these assumptions work silently, but powerfully to impact your behaviors and the behaviors of those around you.
Welcome to the “black box” of business and the enemy of business growth. Most business leaders don’t even know that it exists; yet it contains the keys to our own potential, our organizations’ potential, and our ability to get more of what we really want. Assumptions drive thinking, thinking drives behavior, and behavior drives results.
In late 2005 FORTUNE Magazine published a cover story about Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders and most accomplished leaders. In describing one of the key characteristics that made Grove so successful, author Richard S. Tedlow wrote “Forcibly adapting himself to a succession of new realities, [Grove] has left a trail of discarded assumptions in his wake.” Grove’s ability to challenge “conventional wisdom” (just a euphemism for assumptions) paved the way for a number of seminal decisions at Intel including their move in the mid 1980’s to exit the memory business and focus on processors, and their decision to spend millions on a ground-breaking branding campaign called “Intel Inside” to brand an internal component of a computer.
What made Grove different (and so successful at Intel) is that he actively sought ways to force himself to challenge his assumptions and beliefs – in effect continually pushing and expanding his comfort zone. It was the modus operandi of his personal growth and his ability to lead Intel so successfully for so long.
Can you identify the modus operandi for strategic growth in your organization? When is the last time you consciously pushed to expand your comfort zone – by definition making yourself and those surrounding you uncomfortable in the process? Can you find a way to regularly challenge your own assumptions and beliefs? If not, might it make sense to find someone who will?
For sure, assumptions make our lives easier and more comfortable. It’s up to you however, to decide what you’d like to do with them to drive growth, to make your organization more competitive, and to improve yourself personally.
Every Month A Million and the Daily Dose Of Good.