How to Find & Challenge Assumptions

How to benefit from making mistakes and challenging your assumptions.

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Make Mistakes

A common view is that failure is a bad thing.  It implies a lack of success, personal weakness and it makes you vulnerable.  None of these things are comfortable, enjoyable or desired and, as such, failure is to be avoided.

The problem with this is that the only way you can learn and grow is to fail.  It is a natural part of our way of life.  How many parents proudly remember their baby standing up for the first time, and walking without falling down?  Exactly, it doesn’t happen.  Yet we insist that as we get older so we must always know better, and so we must not fail or be seen to fail.

So let’s plan to fail.  Plan to fail by making deliberate mistakes.

If we are looking to make deliberate mistakes we are better prepared for the eventuality than if we make a mistake unexpectedly.  By looking to make a deliberate mistake you are immediately putting yourself in a mindset of testing, learning and developing.  If you make an unexpected mistake you are more focused on avoiding making the same mistake than learning from it.  One way helps you grow, develop and to focus on the upside; the other can make you more insular, reactive and focused on the downside.

“Consider the Opposite”

Psychologists use this technique, “consider the opposite”, to stop ourselves from drawing premature conclusions and, instead, ponder whether we might be misinterpreting the evidence. For example, “I think my partner is selfish–but, wait, maybe I’m just ignoring all the times he’s looking out for me.” Or, at work: “I think my colleague is being rude and abrupt–but what if he’s not being abrupt and is just trying to respect my time?

If there is such a potential upside to making decisions, then why not take control of the process and try to deliberately make mistakes which can learn or benefit from?  In their recent book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of a company called DSI–Decision Strategies International, a management consulting firm.

The CEO at DSI, Paul Schoemaker wanted his colleagues to help him plan and execute a deliberate mistake, as a way of testing their assumptions about DSI’s business.

They approached this in 5 steps:

  1. Challenge the Conventional Wisdom – they listed the 10 key assumptions underlying their business.  Conventional wisdom is rarely articulated and even more rarely questioned.
  2. Identify Low Confidence & High Payoff Alternatives – they identified and focused on the three assumptions that they were least confident about and that, if proven wrong
  3. Select the option with the having the highest potential of benefiting from a strategy of deliberate mistakes.
  4. Plan to make the mistake
  5. Review results and identify results asking:

What was the difference between what we expected and what we got?

What changed or happened for this result to occur?

How can we replicate this or avoid this outcome?

What are the key leanings from this?

How should our underlying assumption be changed, modified or removed?

The three assumptions that DSI came up with were:

  1. Young MBAs don’t work well for us. We need experienced consultants on the team.
  2. The firm can be successfully run by a president who is not a major billing senior consultant.
  3. It is not worthwhile to respond to RFPs. Clients who use RFPs are usually price shopping or are going through the motions to justify a choice they have already made. (RFPs are requests for proposals. Customers send out RFPs to attract vendors to bid on their business.)

A further round of assessment led them to select number 3 as the one in which they had the least confidence, and which could have the greatest payoff. Now they were ready to make their mistake.

The firm’s policy had been never to respond to an RFP, but they resolved to respond to the next one that came over the transom, which, as it happened, came from a regional electric utility. The DSI team submitted a proposal with a budget of about $200,000, a price that reflected their normal fees but that they suspected would be well out of the client’s league. Schoemaker said, “To our surprise, the electric utility invited our firm to visit with the CEO and the senior management team to explore not only the project in question but others as well.”

Eventually, DIS earned over $1 million in fees from the client. Not bad for making a mistake.

But let’s be clear here, most of your “deliberate mistakes” will fail, and in the fact that failure should be encouraging because it means you’ve been making the right assumptions all along. Beyond the mistake itself, the willingness to test your assumptions has its own value. It signals to your colleagues that your work will be conducted based on evidence, not folklore or politics.

So where are you looking to make a mistake?

Excerpted from Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Copyright 2013 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Published by arrangement with Crown Business, a division of Randomhouse, Inc.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

What to Do When You Fail to Make the Right Impression

Why we sometimes fail to come across as we intend.

We often want to make the ‘right’ impression, but inadvertently end up making the ‘wrong’ impression.

This can happen with your boss, a potential employer, or someone who represents a romantic interest – in fact, anyone with whom you interact. And it can happen despite our best efforts and having the best of intentions. Not coming across as you intend – particularly in your initial encounter with someone – can cause big problems in your personal and professional life. People may mistrust you, dislike you, or not even notice you. Sometimes the fault is your own, sometimes the reason why may lie with other people

Why is this?

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Perceiving people accurately is hard – often the way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible and largely automatic. Although we can distinguish between strong emotions expressed by others, it is remarkably difficult to do with more differentiated emotions. How you or other people look when concerned, puzzled, anxious or confused is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish accurately.  Because we know what we are feeling when we express it we assume that others can discern that feeling. Wrong!  This is why we are often “misunderstood” when we believe we have been crystal clear.
  • What we say, do and express is subject to interpretationwe cannot accurately assess others, or others accurately assess us, because we don’t know what they are thinking or why. So our brains, automatically, pick an interpretation which reflects our beliefs and experiences. So we develop an immediate perception of others, and they of us – rightly or wrongly.
  • We use shortcuts – here we use heuristics and assumptions to fill in the gaps.
    • Heuristics – these are rules of thumb which we use to help us guide our interpretation of someone, an event or a situation in making a decision. For example, when someone believes the opinion of a person of authority on a subject just because the individual is an authority figure. People apply this heuristic all the time in matters such as science, politics, and education. This can be described as an “authority heuristic”.
    • Assumptions – these guide what the perceiver sees, how that information is interpreted, and how it is remembered. As such, assumptions form an integral part of his or her perception of you. There are some assumptions so universal and automatic that you can count on other people making them about you, and that most people are unaware that are making them. For example, if you have a very positive trait — if you are smart, beautiful, funny, kind, and so forth — you are likely to have other positive traits. (and you can count on people to have no idea that they are doing it); the first impression you give is the “right” one, and it shapes how everything else about you is perceived, and you are like the other members of groups to which you appear to belong.

So even when you are meeting someone for the first time he or she will be filling in details about you – even before you start speaking!  So what can you do about this?

  • Find out in advance as much as you can about the other person’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. This will help you to anticipate what he or she may be projecting onto you.
  • Plan what you want to emphasize and/or underplay to help create the right effect.
  • Use the primacy effect – this is where the initial information or points you make are more likely to be remembered than those later on. In short, your initial conversation and behavior will have a greater and disproportionate impact than what occurs later.
  • Make your opinions and values explicitly known in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the other person.
  • Be intentional – it is not enough to have good intentions.

Making, Leveraging & Overcoming First Impressions

First Impressions Count

Remember first impressions can always be changed and/or improved on.  First impressions are important as they begin to lay the foundation of your relationship with another person, so if the foundation is not how you would like it to then be quick to smooth over or re-pour the concrete before it sets.  Why?  Because this foundation also represents the inertia of the other person’s attitudes towards you.  If these attitudes are favorable then it can be used to generate momentum, if they are unfavorable then a considerable effort is required to overcome the inertia and then gain momentum.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.