Discovering Our Own Assumptions Is Difficult

discovering assumptions

Spend a little time on the web and you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of websites extolling the virtues and success of their products to enhance innovation, creativity and of course ROI within your business or organization. One thing that seems to be missing from many of these costly techniques is getting you to discover and consider your own assumptions.

Asking people to go on a journey of self reflection that includes discovering assumptions not easily within reach can be a nasty business. By nasty business I mean who among us is comfortable asking people to dig into their often hidden beliefs, asking people to confront their biases? Is there anyone among your team who would jump at the chance to spend time in the deepest reaches of their mind? I don’t think so. 

It turns out that if you ignore a rigorous program of discovering assumptions the benefits of any change within your business and within your team will be short lived at best. At worst, when we fail to dig into our own assumptions we may actually condemn the company to a long backward spiral instead of an uplifting forward trajectory.

Mining our own mind and the companies collective mind for hidden assumptions (or not so hidden) may not be something that will get us out of bed each morning. But mining assumptions will free us to step forward with confidence knowing our team has tapped the richest vein of creativity possible. And once we start extracting the new ore the team produces we’ll see new and exciting innovations birthed before our eyes.

Each of us has adopted beliefs in our life since the day we were born, and we have accepted a great many of those opinions and ideas as truths as we’ve grown. It ‘s inconceivable that we would look for verification of each thing being presented to us since birth, there would be time for nothing else. Imagine your parents or teachers imparting a bit of knowledge to you. You’d listen carefully and then raise your hand and say”I need to find independent evidence that what you just told me is in fact true.” Both your parents and teachers would be shocked, to say the least.

Since we can’t go back in time to recheck every one of our beliefs to find out where it came from or does it even make sense we need to approach our assumptions in a different manner. We need to be spending time discovering assumptions as they arise within our minds.

Recently I’ve been seeing a quote from John-Paul Sartre pop up on Twitter and Facebook and when I did a search I found it was being used as a cornerstone for quite a few blog posts. The quote: “Only the one who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat,” was being used at times to denigrate others if they spoke out yet were perceived to not being contributing economically. It seems quite a lot of people think those who rock the boat can’t be gainfully employed or contributing to society, in other words lazy malcontents.

I was hit straight between the eyes with the a question, did Sartre really mean to condemn a whole group of people when he uttered those words? This after all was Jean-Paul Sartre not some captain of industry trying to discourage his factory from being unionized. I went in search of the original quote and found Sartre was actually talking about himself, he was saying it is only those like himself who have lots of time to be introspective and watchful have the time to point out what they are seeing to the rest of us. Only those not having to manage endless work, family and chores have time to rock the boat.

As a society we do want writers, philosophers and artists casting a critical eye upon the workings of society, right? We want people digging deeply into the internal workings of politics, business and social areas, right? And to the extent that we ourselves can, don’t we also want to be self reflective of our thoughts and actions? We do right?

So this quote is replicating around the web with Jean-Paul Sartre’s name attached to it yet most of the posting are using it for an entirely different purpose than Sartre meant. This act is a perfect example of how we come to build up such a deep reservoir of assumptions. At some point someone will yell at another person or group “even Jean-Paul Sartre thinks your a bunch of lazy bastards.” 

A friend, parent, teacher or anyone in authority shares with us a thought about something or about a group of people and without wondering what information formed their opinion we accept it as fact. Once we accept something as fact it becomes easier to accept another fact in the same category as true. it seems our brain likes simplicity and efficiency more than it likes fact checking, so we build a web of facts we now believe within each category and we have no idea where our belief originally came from or even what it was based on.

Engaging With Your Team

Your company puts together a team to work on finding avenues and products that will take the company into the future while helping to create a strong ROI. You all sit down at your first meeting and start introducing yourselves and what strengths you bring to the table, everyone smiles at each other and maybe says glad you’re here when each person is finished speaking.

Behind each pair of eyes within this shinny and hopeful newly constructed group minds are clicking and clacking with thoughts as each participant speaks. Thoughts tumble around such as; he’s an idiot, she’s lazy, what is that person doing here, he’s sleeping with his assistant, I like her, I don’t like him, she’s smart, a good addition to our team, another of managements blunders, she won’t last, he’s a liar, and over and over and over our assumptions come cascading into our conscious mind.

Not a very good start, is it? But with a little work it’s possible to create a group based on respect and cooperation that will lead to success that members of the group have yet to imagine. Generative Dialogue is the path that leads to that success and discovering assumptions is one of the pillars underpinning Dialogue.

Want to get a head start on discovering assumptions? here’s a list I downloaded from  written by Leo Gura. This list is a companion piece to the video The Mechanics Of Belief found on YouTube. NOTE – I found this video to be on point and compelling yet some may find Leo’s style to be in your face or a bit abrasive, keep that in mind when you go to watch it and remember it’s the content that’s important to learning more about discovering assumptions. I personally thinking Leo does an amazing job of digging into this subject.


The Mechanics of Belief
Some of my pet theories are…
Some things that I know FOR SURE are…
Some beliefs which would be ridiculous to question are…
Some beliefs that I am proud to hold are…
Some things that I believe but haven’t actually experienced are…
Some assumptions necessary for my worldview to make sense are…
Some things that I like to think of as facts but are actually beliefs are…
Some of my meta beliefs are (beliefs about beliefs)
I would look so foolish if any of the following beliefs I hold turned out to be true/false…
There is absolutely no way that the following things could be false…
Some beliefs which other people hold that get me riled up because they are so ridiculous are..
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