When Is It Okay To Assume Things In Business?
We are told to never assume things, yet assumptions in business are unavoidable. We never have all the information we need, so assumptions become part of our strategies, decision making, and planning. So, Is it wrong to assume in things in business? And, how can we leverage our assumptions for growth? Both are good questions that are worth exploring.
What is an assumption? An assumption is a stated point of view, with limited factual rigour to support it. That’s it. As such, an assumption in its self isn’t inherently dangerous. So why is it wrong to assume things then?
There are two scenarios we need to be aware of when we consider the dangers of assumption. The first scenario is when we mistake our assumptions for facts. How often have you acted only to discover the facts you relied on weren’t as robust as you initially thought? It is most likely because these ‘facts you relied upon were hidden assumptions. The ice is always thick enough to walk on until it isn’t. It’s therefore still a good idea to test it before you venture onto the ice rather than to assume what usually is factually true. The adage to assume is to make an ASS of U and ME should really be to assume something to be factual when it’s not, and rely on this assumption in our decision making, is to make an ASS of U and Me.
The second scenario is when we don’t vocalise our assumptions. How often have you heard the words ‘I thought you knew that?’ and ‘I thought that was obvious?’ in response to a significant issue. This scenario is typically the result of undeclared assumptions or when we assumed the facts were known to the group. This is a particularly dangerous, yet widespread, mistake that leadership teams make.
How to resolve these problems
There are two things we can do to prevent these scenarios from occurring in our businesses. The first thing is to acknowledge that assumptions and facts lie on a continuum, where nothing is certain, but everything has a degree of ‘factuality’. As such, we need to be comfortable taking the position that everything in business is an assumption. By doing this we can continually interrogate all the ‘facts’ within our business, as if they were assumptions, to avoid the trap of mistaking any assumptions for facts.
The second thing we can do is write down all the assumptions we are making. Writing down our assumptions not only helps us avoid the trap of undeclared assumption but also allows us to use them as testable hypotheses. A written down assumption allows us to methodically prove it out to be either right or wrong, over time. This activity leaves us with a robust body of evidence, from which we can reliably base our strategic planning and decision making on.
To sum this up, by treating everything in our business as an assumption, knowing that assumptions lie on a continuum of prove-ability, we will never mistake an assumption for a fact. And, by writing down all our assumptions, we can use them as hypotheses to build a body of evidence from which we can leverage in our strategic planning and decision making.
So, is it wrong to assume things in business? Not at all. It’s necessary, unavoidable, and, if managed correctly, we can leverage our assumptions for growth.