You Better Reconsider Your Assumptions

Wallace acting like a supermodel

A couple of years ago Nancy and I adopted a pair of kittens from our vet – Schumpeter and Wallace.  They’ve both turned out to be awesome cats, though very different in personality.  The only problem is that from the time they hit adolescence, Wallace started spraying.

This has been a bit distressing, for a variety of reasons.  In consultation with several different vets at our clinic, and every other resource we could find, we tried everything we could think of to stop the problem – changing the environment, medical treatment, blood tests to make sure there wasn’t an underlying problem, giving Wallace his own room in the house, and quite a few other things.

Nothing seemed to work.

Finally, one of the vets we were talking to said: “He’s acting just like an intact male.”

So we had our main vet do a blood test to check his testosterone level.  When we brought Wallace in for the test, she had gone back to the original records.  It turns out that while neutering is a very routine procedure, there was an anomaly noted in his records.  And sure enough, his testosterone levels were through the roof.

We had assumed all the way through the troubleshooting process that he was fixed, when in fact he apparently has testicular tissue floating around somewhere in his abdomen.

Wallace acting like a supermodel


Wallace acting like a supermodel

We make a lot of assumptions in business too.

We assume that:

  • we can figure out if our idea is good through logic rather than testing it.
  • the standard business model that everyone else in the industry uses will work for us too.  
  • and that it’s the best one. 
  • people act rationally, and that logic is the best way to get them to try our great new idea.
  • if we tell people to be more innovative, they’ll know what to do.
  • innovation is about great ideas, and that’s all.

There are plenty more, and I’m sure you can think of a few more common ones to add to the list.  Identifying the assumptions and biases that underlay your approach to the world is important.

So the next time you find yourself surprised, or you discover that things aren’t working the way you expect, remember my cat Wallace.  And reconsider your assumptions.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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7 thoughts on “You Better Reconsider Your Assumptions

  1. I agree Tim. I started to design an idea management platform because I was amazed that none of them would make it easy to test assumptions of an idea. I think we assume too many things. If that was true and if that was also true and if that other thing was also true then this idea would earn millions. Then we just go ahead and start to believe those if are really true…no wonder most innovation efforts fail too late!

    • It’s definitely a big issue. And it’s a definitely a weakness in the idea management platforms that I’ve seen, so there may well be an opportunity there.

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