How do you solve problems well? A tip often cited is challenging assumptions. Few say how to do this though. The key is practice. To that end, this post has three examples of challenging assumptions at work.
The three have a theme though. They refer to assumptions made about quality. So, I call this type of assumption the Qualitative Assumption.
Examples of Challenging Assumptions at Work
Assumptions hide. They go unstated. For instance, consider:
Is this process running efficiently?
Using efficiency to imply quality commonly occurs in business. Contrasting it to effectiveness helps us to see this. For example:
The process is running as well as it can, but it’s producing quality on the lower end of our acceptability range.
A car makes a good analogy. It runs well, but is it giving us the type of drive we want? Do we want a fast one? A comfortable one? A secure one? An economical one?
The next example is similar but refers to people. The question comes up often at work:
How efficiently does the employee work?
An assessment asked this question. A company wanted me to fill it out on one of their employees. For this question, I had to rate him on a 1-5 scale.
The assumption is that he produces work that meets a certain assumed level of quality. A few questions, in addition to the one in the previous example, challenge this assumption though:
- If he doesn’t waste time and works as fast as he can – but still slower than others – is he being efficient?
- What if he wastes a lot of time but works very fast but still gets the work done much faster than most?
- Should I compare his efficiency to the average? The top 25%? Top 10%?
As a result of these questions, the ratings by others and me on this question are very suspect.
This final example is:
Did we give them a fair price?
In this question, it makes a qualitative assumption about price. It assumes we know what standard to use to judge fairness. It does not state it.
Examples of challenges include:
- Did we give them a fair price or a good price?
- Are we being fair in light of what the market offers?
- Did all parties see the price as fair?
Avoiding Miscommunication and Problems
Assumptions make communication easier and faster. That’s important in business. It does this though at the cost of thinking.
Not thinking though creates miscommunication and problems. Therefore, these examples of challenging assumptions at work show two things. They show that it can not only solve problems but head them off too.
Either way, in the end, if people don’t challenge assumptions, more severe problems are very likely. In this way, it’s a predictive indicator for businesses.
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