Leadership // Business

How To Notice When You Are Making Assumptions

What assumptions are you making each day? Assumptions can be used accelerate or anchor your decisions. The choice is in the perspectives you take. 

Even the most analytical thinkers are predictably irrational; the really smart ones acknowledge and address their irrationalities.” - Dan Ariely 

Behavioural economist Dan Ariely points out the importance of testing assumptions. He describes this in his Ted Talk discussing his interactions with nurses doing his bandage removal after he had been badly burned. 

“The nurses in my department thought that the right approach was the ripping one, so they would grab hold and they would rip, and they would grab hold and they would rip. And because I had 70 percent of my body burned, it would take about an hour. I would try to reason with them and say,  

"Why don't we try something else? Why don't we take it a little longer - maybe two hours instead of an hour and have less of this intensity?"

And the nurses told me... that they had the right model of the patient, that they knew what was the right thing to do to minimise my pain. They told me that the word patient doesn't mean to make suggestions or to interfere."

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After taking in this content, there were two main take aways for me that I thought were intersting (and worth discussing here).

One was that my favourite nurse, Ettie, told me that I did not take her pain into consideration. She said, "Of course, you know, it was very painful for you. But think about me as a nurse... removing the bandages of somebody I liked, and had to do it repeatedly over a long period of time. Creating so much torture was not something that was good for me, too."  

So, if you think about all of your intuitions, it's very hard to believe that your intuition is wrong. And she said, "Given the fact that I thought my intuition was right ..." She thought her intuition was right -- it was very difficult for her to accept doing a difficult experiment to try and check whether she was wrong. 

“It is true that from a behavioral economics perspective we are fallible, easily confused, not that smart, and often irrational. We are more like Homer Simpson than Superman.” - Dan Ariely  

This is the situation we're all in all the time.  

We have very strong intuitions about all kinds of things -- our own ability, how the economy works, how we should pay school teachers. But unless we start testing those intuitions, we're not going to do better.  

And just think about how better my life would have been if those nurses would have been willing to check their intuition, and how everything would have been better if we just start doing more systematic experimentation of our intuitions.

What assumptions did you make about the speed of removing the bandages each day? 

This is a simple model to test where you are at with your assumptions. 

By understanding where your current perspective is, you can quickly understand if you are making a significant assumption and what perspective your assumption is anchored in. 

The deeper the assumption, the more likely your perspective is internal.

Assumptions may also be holding you back from becoming a leader at your organisation. Check out our recent post on leadership vs. management to work out how your style may be affecting your team and career. 

*This post was originally published on Linkedin.

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Oscar Trimboli

Oscar Trimboli

Author of Breakthroughs, Professional Speaker and Mentor working with clients to achieve growth within their organisation, for their team and with their leaders.