Solving Impossible Problems: What are you assuming?
As we strive to solve our impossible business problems, most of us are held in chains.
"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken."
- Warren Buffet
In business, the chains that stop us solving impossible problems are our assumptions. Most of us don't know what we are assuming. Our assumptions bounce around inside our brain unchallenged. To solve our impossible problems we must examine our assumptions. However, we can’t do this unless they are in writing.
Assumptions affect Strategic Customers and Strategic Negotiations
The American actor, Henry Winkler once wisely said: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships”. Too often when we are called in to investigate losing a strategic customer we find the supplier has assumed the customer simply wants the same product but cheaper or faster. Or the supplier assumes their customer’s strategy is the same as it was 5 years ago. So, to protect your relationships with strategic customers, ask regularly, what are we assuming?
As well as affecting strategic customers, assumptions affect strategic negotiations. More than 20 years ago, I remember a negotiator urging me to test my assumptions. He rewrote the word assume as Ass-U-Me to remind me that if I did not test my assumptions, I would assume and that would make an ass out of you and me. I never forgot that lesson that assuming is bad for both sides of a negotiation.
"The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions."
-Don Miguel Ruiz
Ask: What are you assuming? Write a list as quickly as you can. Don’t hesitate. Simply writing a list is often enough to help you break the chains holding you from solving the problem. Often, as soon as you see the assumptions in writing you know the assumption is wrong and you see another solution to your impossible problem.
If you need to analyse the assumptions further, try this. Once you have a list, number the assumptions and then ask two more questions:
- How uncertain is the assumption? (low or high)
- How important is the assumption? (low or high)
You can then map your assumptions in a simple 2 by 2 diagram (See example below). Investigate further, those assumptions that you are highly uncertain and important to your business.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”
- Isaac Asimov