You witness a friend of yours suddenly falling to the ground. Before you get to him, a stranger rushes up to him and grabs him by the neck. First thoughts? — Suspicion! The stranger must be chocking your friend. You immediately react and push the stranger away only to realize he was only loosening your friend’s tie to help him breathe better. Your actions have just delayed the rescue and, potentially, first measures to save your friend’s life.
Despite the fact that it’s just a hypothetical example, it paints an accurate picture of how we tend to jump to conclusions that turn out to be wrong. Drawing wrong conclusions can lead to fatal errors. Organizations pay a high price for making decisions based on untested conclusions. Often, these decisions can lead to making problems even worse.
Building on Misconceptions
Misconceptions are beliefs, beliefs based on something that was never true in the first place. Misconceptions are often drawn from the word of mouth or simple lack or research when an assumption is put in the basis. To give you an example, here are a few popular misconceptions that continue to harm businesses to date:
- You can predict or successfully forecast what the future holds.
- Finding common ground, or reaching an agreement between colleagues means the issue is automatically understood.
- Customers stick to patterns when making decisions. In other words, decisions are made the same way they always have.
- You have plans and strategies for making rapid progress, but your competitors don’t.
The cure for avoiding false beliefs is suspicion. Suspect and question assumptions taken for granted even if others don’t. You may end up confirming the belief to be true, but at least you are now assured. Even if only 1 out of 100 assumptions will end up being incorrect, this one can result in savings and problem prevention that cover invested time and resources hundredfold. Moreover, it will put you ahead of the curve by avoiding picking the wrong turn, to begin with. When evaluating an assumption, ask yourself:
- Is this really true? How do I know it?
- If it is not, then why do others believe it to be?
- What would be the right assumption? What is needed to persuade people into changing their beliefs?
Broaden Your View
Some assumptions are not easily tested. When experimenting is your only option, do your homework on your ideas to get a better sense of what you are about to take up.
Columbus comes to mind. Way back then, everyone, apart from Columbus, had a fear of sailing across the Atlantic as they were too afraid of falling off the edge of the planet. You see, before heading towards Caribbeans, Columbus took the time to study Viking explorations during his visit to Iceland. That’s where he first learned about the land across the Atlantic.
Put Sophisticated Thinking to Practice
Professor Howard Gardner, the cognitive psychologist and author of The Unschooled Mind, champions the idea of people usually thinking at 3 levels.
The first level defined by Professor Gardner is the one of a five-year-old. The mindset of a five-year-old revolves around the fact that others take care of them, protect them from harm and provide for their needs. Despite the naming, the belief can persist even when a person reaches adult years. This way of thinking stands on the way of the person embracing independence and living a fully functioning adult life. Another trait characteristic of a five-year-old way of thinking is falsely believing to be better than everyone else. Overly confident people are a perfect example of this trait being relevant even among grown adults.
The second level is argued to develop during high school and college year when teens and young adults undergo training. They are being taught concepts that don’t align with a five-year-old way of thinking. Students are introduced to sophisticated concepts which they need to memorize – not necessarily understand – in order to pass the test. The second level is the most common even among adults as the majority rarely gets past it.
The third level is characteristic of relatively few adults where they are capable of deeply comprehending sophisticated concepts and transforming them into practical knowledge. In other words, these people apply learned concepts to deal with real-life issues. When a person fails to do so, they typically revert to the five-year-old mindset of being superior in every way and begin to draw conclusions based on that misconception instead. On the contrary, a person who figures out how to apply acquired principles to real-life scenarios grows to become a disciplinary expert. Latter minds are scarce and in high demand.
Imagine ditching five-year-old misconceptions in favor of putting sophisticated adult principles into daily practice backing them up with expert knowledge, first-hand experience, questioning commonly accepted assumptions derived by the ever-growing percentage of five-year-old minds. The possibilities, achievements, and accomplishments are countless.
Jumping Right Into It
Even when making efforts to practice the application of sophisticated thinking people often end up jumping to hasty conclusions. To give you a quick casual example, let’s look at any service. The place by your office where you decided you get your morning coffee, despite having no line, didn’t do too quick of a job. The same happened the next time you’ve attended. Naturally, the majority will not make it their first choice. Statistics, however, says otherwise — two experiences do not comprise a trend. Perhaps the manager is off to vacation, or you have been showing up to trainee shifts.
The executive management of a multibillion-dollar corporation was undoubtedly intelligent, clearly educated, respected and admired for executives’ decision-making skills. Eventually, managers decided they needed to see statistical measurements of the impact of their decisions. As the results, statisticians were assigned to record, research and analyze all managers’ activity for 6 upcoming months. With little to no exceptions, management would consider completely random events attributing them to results of their decisions.
Executives were continuously making efforts to eradicate random attributes in performance evaluation. In reality, these attempts have sidetracked executives and kept them from doing meaningful work offering promising opportunities for gain. Instead of focusing on actual trends based on newly learned insight the organization had made the mistake of continuing to focus on trivial things.
Another misconception brought to light with the help of this example is the proven difference between the perception of management quality versus measured effectiveness.
CEO Speaks Always Implies Immediate Action
Among the most dangerous misconceptions often found within organizations is the belief that promotion comes with the increase in brains. Here is an observation to back it up.
Executive assistants have been asked to suggest a single most important thing their CEO could do better. Hardly surprising, as one they have responded that anything said by the CEO was practically considered to be gospel. Lower level employees, on the contrary, were always eager to suggest, as they think, essential changes. The CEO would generally assume their requests would not be taking much time or cost for someone who has the answer. When reviewed, assistants have concluded that almost 25% of CEO’s time was occupied with addressing similar requests. If only CEOs could delegate casual inquiries, this would prevent the entire organization from channeling so much effort due to the misconception that these tasks were of major priority.
Encourage Busting Misconceptions & False Assumptions
Imagine an organization that’s been assuming for years that their advertisement campaigns were only effective during the times of high demand for seasonal foods. In the meantime, their competitors have been promoting seasonal foods on and offseason. Sooner or later, they’ve got around to run an advertising test during an assumed offseason of the year to see whether it’s going to impact sales. And sure it did, far exceeding any expectations.
To avoid falling for similar assumptions within your organization ask yourself these questions:
- What are the methods or things your company believes will always work?
- What are the methods or things your company believes will seldom or never work?
- What are the event or things your company believes will probably happen?
- What are the event or things your company believes will unlikely or never take place?
- What are these beliefs founded on?
- When was the last time your company had checked these beliefs?
- Are these assumptions true to date?
Pinpoint Misconceptions & False Assumptions to Bust
Once you have identified faulty beliefs, you will need to figure out which deserve immediate attention and which can be correct later down the road. It helps to ask yourself these questions in order to set all the right priorities:
- Which of the identified assumptions come with large potential consequences for your business?
- When will neutralizing a false assumption make the largest difference?
- What is the right time to act in order to avoid most damage or gain the most benefit?
- What minimum evidence will indicate that immediate action is needed?
Utilize Assumptions to Your Advantage
Future is indeed unpredictable and buoyant. Prepare yourself by opening your mind to reflect on these questions:
- Which assumptions have proven to work for companies in the face of somewhat similar circumstances?
- Which of these assumptions could fit into the set of values of your company?
- Which of these assumptions you can expect to be well received by your users, clients, affiliates, employees, management, partners, shareholders, etc.