Challenging Assumptions

Watch out! Your assumptions are impeding your creativity

On many occasions, when others grapple with a challenge that seems impossible to crack, creative and innovative people look at the challenge with a different perspective and crack it.

On hindsight, those ideas appear so obvious. People often wonder, “How come I couldn’t see what she/he could?”

The answer is assumptions. We form our assumptions based on our experience. The problem with assumptions is that although they are deep-rooted inside us, they exist below the level of our consciousness. Hence, we are not even aware of them. They are mistaken as facts.

Your deep-rooted assumptions are stopping you from seeing the obvious

Assumptions are like a wall that blocks our view of creative ideas that are available all around us in abundance.

The Murderer

The police is on the lookout for a suspected murderer. Unfortunately, the officers don’t know what he looks like. They only know his name is John. One day, they receive an anonymous phone call. The caller tells them the exact location of the house where John is hiding. When they raid the house, they find a carpenter, a lorry driver, a mechanic and a fireman, all playing poker. Without a word, they arrest the fireman. Why were they so certain that they have arrested the right man?

Did you figure the answer out? Let me give you a hint. Your assumption is stopping you from getting the answer. Remove it and you will see that the answer of this puzzle is pretty obvious.

Was the hint useful? Could you finally solve it? If you are still struggling, then here is the answer: The fireman is the murderer as he happens to be the only man in the room.  The rest of the poker players were women.

In hindsight, doesn’t it seem to be the most obvious answer? The reason you couldn’t get it was because, based on your past experience, you assumed that the carpenter, lorry driver and mechanic were men. Most interestingly, in spite of hinting to you that your assumption is stopping you from seeing the obvious, you were unable to identify it and challenge it.

Now you know how difficult it is to spot our deep-rooted assumptions. This is where creative and innovative minds score over the rest.

Not only do we always carry with us, our deep-rooted assumptions, but we keep on adding new ones.

We keep on adding more assumptions.

In one of my workshops, I decided to drive home this point through a first-hand experience.

It is a common practice to start a workshop with the participants introducing themselves. Here, the facilitator adds some creativity into it and makes it an interesting ice-breaking exercise. On one such occasion, I started the session by introducing myself. I deliberately prepared a Powerpoint presentation that had four parameters to cover ‘about myself.’ Then I invited participants to introduce themselves one by one, adding that they have five minutes of time to prepare their introduction.

How do you think they introduced themselves?

You guessed it right.

Each of the participants introduced himself by using a Powerpoint presentation with the same parameters that I had used. Although I hadn’t given any instructions regarding the way they should introduce themselves, everyone assumed this to be the only way they were expected to introduce themselves.

In my subsequent interaction, the group didn’t need any further explanation on assumptions. They all had a first-hand experience of it.

Is there any way to conquer this invisible enemy?

The problem with assumptions is that they are so deeply ingrained that we are unable to identify them as assumptions. On many occasions, when I suggested teams to challenge all their assumptions, the immediate reply was, “There are no assumptions, all what we have is a set of immutable facts”. Asking people to challenge their assumption is like asking them to fight with a enemy that they are not even aware of. But whether you are aware of it or not, assumptions do exist. And unless you challenge and bust them successfully, there won’t be any creative breakthroughs.

Here is good news for you. There are proven ways to conquer this invisible enemy. One such powerful technique is called ‘reversing assumptions’. In my eBook Connecting the dots – Creativity and Innovation Secrets of the World’s Greatest minds, I have dedicated an entire chapter that offers you a powerful technique for challenging and busting assumptions. After all, busting assumptions is one of the most important steps in generating creative ideas. You can download it free by clicking here

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1 Comment

  • Reply Vrinda January 30, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    This is very well written sir! Generally, we assume first then based on assumption form all judgment…
    Stereotyping can be a barrier to creativity. Wonderful thought!

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