The HeadScratcher Post Archive
April  2012
Assumptions and Decisions
       April 2012 The Headscratcher Post Headscratchers LLC    Edition 79

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Assumptions and Decisions

Some decisions take a long time, or are made haphazardly, because the assumptions behind them are poorly understood, not validated, or not monitored. Let's take a look at the role of Assumptions.

An Assumption, a component of a conclusion, is a prediction or statement, with the belief that it is probably true, while acknowledging that it may not be true. For example:

You invite people to a gathering with "bring your own beverage" on the invitation. You might make the assumption that most, but not all, people will bring their own beverage, so you have some extra water bottles.

When a company decides to launch a new product or service, the person who says "go" will be making assumptions, such as; that customers will buy the product; that the quality of the product will meet or exceed customer expectations; and customer care is ready to support the product. If these assumptions are valid, you'll have a successful launch. However, like all assumptions, these may not be true, and if not, your launch might be unsuccessful.

Assumptions are often based on experiences. Example: When it rains hard during the morning rush hour, you have experienced a lot of traffic. On the nightly news you hear, "It's going to rain really hard during the morning rush hour tomorrow". So, based on your experience, you make the assumption, the prediction, that there will be a lot of traffic in the morning. There is no certainty that there will be traffic, but a high probability that there will be based on many experiences you have had. So you decide to leave a little earlier in the morning to get to work on time.

We frequently need to make decisions without all the information we would like to have, such as decisions about buying things, hiring people, committing to schedule, a task, or a strategy. We don't know for a fact that the person we hire will work out, or that we can meet a schedule, or that we'll be able to pay off a loan. But we have to make a decision. So we make assumptions about our abilities, and the abilities of others, assumptions about what might happen, or not happen. Assumptions about the economy, the weather, our customers. Then we decide.

Unfortunately, we don't regularly think about the assumptions we are making, and as a result, some decisions take a long time or are poorly made. Additionally, we often neglect to validate and monitor assumptions.

In Critical Thinking we look at the Assumption itself, how it can be Validated and Monitored.

The Assumption: One of the strategies for making a decision is to start with an assumptions conversation, i.e, "What assumptions can be made?". Then ask, How confident am I about these assumptions? Are they based on just one experience, or many experiences? Have others also had these experiences? How probable is the assumption?

Validation. Once you understand the assumptions being made, you can ask; Is there anything I can do or ask that can raise the confidence that the assumption is true and valid?

Monitoring: Since assumptions are often about what might happen, you need to check back every once in awhile about your assumptions. Monitor the assumptions ... are they still valid? If an assumption turns out to be invalid, there is a increased probability that the decision might not be an appropriate one, so there is reason to revisit the decision, i.e. "based on the assumptions we made, and this one which is now known to be invalid, do the current assumptions still support the decision, or is there another decision we would come to?".

The Takeaway: Decisions are often a lot simpler and can be made faster when the decision maker has reviewed the assumptions, looked at their validity, and put into place a way to check if the assumptions turn out to be true or not. These few steps take very little time and can have a immediate and huge impact in raising the quality and speed of decision making.

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