I met Stephan at his office in downtown Boston, tape recorder in hand. He had a lot to say on the topic of assumptions:
Assumptions is a big word, right? And when we hear “assumptions”, we immediately think about people in our own lives who have made mistakes based on assumptions—
“When you assume, you make an ass out of ‘you’ and ‘me’,” I said, quoting an aphorism.
Yes, that’s the obvious, but I like to challenge people to think of assumptions as a good thing, because assumptions are what drive us into proving something is right or wrong. This opens up a huge amount of opportunity, but the key is — and Andy Cohen says this in his book — that changing your assumptions can change your life. He describes the central concept of the “assumpt”, the basic idea that you are operating under (which is not always factual). You can think of it as “your truth”, the hypothesis you’re working from based on your lifetime of specific experiences. Digging into this is harder, but if you’re aware of your own education, your emotional makeup, your experiences, you’re able to make assumptions that are far better than average. Even more useful, is being able to understand the “assumpt” of others, understanding what makes them tick so that you can change your behavior as needed. Good salespeople do this all the time, which is using empathy to understand where the other person is coming from, so that you can make better informed decisions. Without having some dialogue around what an assumption is, we’re closing so many doors and pathways. So, by flipping the script around, looking at assumptions in a positive light and reconsidering their place in our lives, we can see the “what ifs” we’d otherwise miss.
“My main thought on this is ties back to the Dunning-Kruger effect, wherein the people who don’t know what they don’t know are even worse at knowing they don’t know it. Given this sense of false confidence, if you’re someone who can change your assumptions, aren’t you already doing it? And how do you know if you’re supposed to be changing them?”
I don’t think we even need to go that far, because just for you to know that you’re working based on assumptions, to know that you don’t have all the solutions, it makes you open to new ideas and willing to fail. We often interpret these things as weaknesses, but they become strengths in this context. Just going that far can completely change your operating modes.