A Word About Assumptions: Part Two

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

A Word About Assumptions: Part TwoIn addition to building creative visions for specific transcendental situations, it is also useful to pose generic creative challenges to yourself and perhaps your team, this is particularly true in business. Let’s look at a few generic creative challenges for businesses.

What If Assumption X Is Not True

As I wrote earlier, we live in a reality of assumptions and this is particularly true of business. If you have not done so already; make a list of the assumptions you and your colleagues make about your business, your sector and your market. Then choose one of the fundamental assumptions and ask yourself what you would do if that assumption were to become invalid.

This can happen more easily than you realise, usually for one of these reasons:

1. A new, previously unknown, company launches a disruptive innovation that completely changes your market. The film industry assumed people would always print images. That assumption became invalid once digital photography and on-line sharing became available. The press assumed people would always buy and read newspapers, until the web made more news available less expensively to everyone everywhere. A new technology could change your sector. Why not be the one who launches the new technology rather than one of its victims?

2. Changes in legislation can damage and even destroy a business model. I knew a guy who ran a small business leading tours through Amsterdam on Segways (those two-wheeled, battery-powered contraptions that you stand on and which zip off in the direction you lean towards). Unfortunately, the Netherlands outlawed the use of Segways and similar vehicles on public roads, turning his business model into an illegal act. In less extreme scenarios, changing law in regulated businesses such as pharmaceuticals, finance and others can require you make big changes in your business whether you want to or not!

3. Changing technology makes your product or business model increasingly irrelevant. Remember when every office had a fax machine? Remember how people used regularly to send post cards? Remember how it used to be cheaper to take your broken radio to the repair shop than to buy a new radio? Remember travel agents? Bricks and mortar bookshops? These businesses have been fundamentally altered, if not made obsolete, not by a single disruptive innovation so much as new technologies offering cheaper and easier ways to accomplish certain tasks.

What Would You Do If…?

Look at the underlying assumptions of your business, choose one and ask yourself, what you would do if that assumption became invalid. In the example of the logistics business mentioned earlier, they could ask “What would we do if diesel fuel and petrol became unavailable?” or “What kind of business could we provide our clients if 3D printing became ubiquitous?”

If you were the management team of a mobile telecoms company, you might ask yourself, “What would we do if Google, Facebook or another tech company launched a free, global mobile telephone service?”

Why Bother?

Exercises such as these are useful not simply to have a contingency plan in case someone else does something to disrupt your industry, but also as a means of coming up with a creative vision that might enable you to disrupt your industry! After all, it is better to be the disruptor than the victim of disruption, is it not?

In addition, developing a vision that enables you to respond to a drastic, disruptive change in your business might help you identify new opportunities that exist within your business sector – but which you and your competitors have failed to see because your view has been blocked by assumptions.

Lastly, this kind of creative exercise is simply a good way to exercise your creative mind. And that’s a good thing in its own right.

Entrepreneur

If you are an entrepreneur with a deep knowledge of a particular sector, questioning assumptions in that sector may enable you to invent a new product or service that becomes a disruptive innovation that changes your market. The potential in such a situation is great.

As described above, make a list of all the assumptions prevalent in your sector. Do this yourself and talk to others. Then go through those assumptions one at a time and for each ask what might cause the assumption to become obsolete; what the consequences to existing businesses in the sector might be; and what opportunities might arise.

Questioning Assumptions on a Personal Level

You should also question assumptions on a personal level from time to time. As you grow and take on responsibilities in life, such as to: work, a life-partner, children, ageing parents and mortgages to name but a few, it is easy to live a life that is controlled by assumptions rather than your true goals. As a consequence, you may not perform as well in these roles as you might.

As I wrote earlier, one of the most common assumptions people tend to make is that they need to earn as much income as possible for their families. As a result, the person works long hours, brings work home, answers email at the dinner table and neglects the family in hopes of getting promotions and salary increases. Worse, if the economy is bad, some people devote themselves entirely to work just in hopes of keeping a job!

If that describes you, try this. Imagine you work only half as much as you do now, but only get half as much income. How would you have to change your life to make that work? How much more could you do for your family in such a situation?

Very likely, your creative vision will be a lot more desirable than the creative vision that involves having a lot more money, bigger house and a nicer car; none of which you can enjoy since you are working long hours to pay for all of them!

If you have been in a long and comfortable relationship, you probably assume that your partner will stay with you forever. So, imagine the scenario in which your partner leaves you. Why might she (or he, of course) do that? What could you have done to make her want to stay with you? How could you have made the relationship better for her?

Needless-to-say, taking action on these ideas will only delight your partner, even if she has no intention of leaving you!

image credit: business relax image from bigstock

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  • Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner writes and speaks on creativity, innovation and – especially – anticonventional thinking (ACT), globally. This article was reprinted with permission from his creativity archives.

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