Please watch this short two-minute Ted Talk above and then read on…
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Alan Alda
Your Modus Operandi
Did you know that you have a blueprint on the way you think? And like most people, you are generally locked into this modus operandi. This blueprint is called your assumptions. But don’t feel too bad about this. Everyone operates on an internal list of assumptions.
Otherwise we could not thrive in our complex and confusing world. We would have no bearings and would continually get lost.
Our brains use psychological frameworks largely based on assumptions about value and likelihood so that we avoid cognitive chaos. However, if we see our assumptions as a “best fit” which if we pay no attention can go terribly wrong, we gain a clearer idea of how nature has equipped us for misadventure.
Living With Misjudgement
Take a look at the psychology of misjudgement with this Daniel Gilbert’s TED talk.
Daniel’s examples are relatively simple compared with the complexity of our assumptions about how the “real” world, about other people, and about ourselves.
Our earliest assumptions come from our parents, siblings, friends, teachers etc. and colour how we process new experiences and information for much of our later life. These assumptions are the filters overlaying our personal lens through which we interact with the world.
Our unique experience is just that: unique. And we use our assumptions to make sense of this. The problems begin when we attempt to impose our unique personal assumptions on the world in general and expect everyone else to conform.
Seeking Different Assumptions
If one world view is too narrow it follows we must seek more experiences and assumptions to broaden our world view. As we can’t live everyone else’s life nor acquire their assumptions we must learn to share them by collaboration.
“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” ~ Miguel Angel Ruiz
Here there is a fork in the road. In one direction lies the pit of Groupthink and the other the garden of collaboration. If all you want is to have your assumptions reinforced then surround yourself with yes men. You will get a nice warm feeling but you court very public failure.
“Groupthink is characterized by a shared “illusion of invulnerability,” an exaggerated belief in the competence of the group, a “shared illusion of unanimity” within the group, and a number of other symptoms” ~ Fredric Solomon and Robert Q. Marston
On Courage and Facing New Challenges
If you have the courage to attract people with different views and encourage them to voice theirs, all evidence shows that together you will be more creative especially in facing challenge. Your innovations and solutions will most likely last longer and be more directly relevant.
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Collaboration is vital but insufficient for genius innovation. You need creative tension. One definition of tension is “A balanced relation between strongly opposing elements.” If we think of the most creative people we think of polymaths or renaissance men (and of course women.)
They investigated art, mathematics, biology, music, literature etc. etc. seeing no boundaries.
Our modern world is too complex to excel at more than a few things so we must build “Renaissance Teams” to cover the ground. The leader’s challenge is to nurture creative tension, appreciate different assumptions, and gel the whole in a vision which supports common purpose.
Your Actions Today
- As you approach each person, task or meeting make a note of your assumptions.
- Reflect on the “life history” of each assumption; where/who did it come from?
- On a scale of 1 (my opinion) to 10 (the truth,) rate each of your assumptions.
- Were you able to appreciate, understand and integrate other people’s assumptions into your world view?
To hone your assumption busting skills try The Reflective Journal by Barbara Bassot
Gary is the author of the upcoming book “Your Personal Leadership Book of Days – Avoid Cookie Cutter Solutions By Using Your Adaptive Intelligence.” Download a free mini-version HERE.
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