Have your assumptions outlived their usefulness?

leaf pile I’ve spent the last few weeks working with many leaders on the subject of innovation.

One of core principles of innovation is to question assumptions.

After all, if you want to innovate (make something new, better, more valuable), you have to think and act differently.

Assumptions are things that we accept and hold as truths–without proof. But what if our assumptions are wrong?

This hit home yesterday while I was mowing the leaves in the backyard.

Yes, you read that right—mowing the leaves.

You see, for the last ten years, until this Autumn, I did what many people do when leaves fall off of the trees:  I would rake them. Raking makes sense.  After all, what else would you do with leaves?  Isn’t that what rakes are for? Raking is also labor intensive.  At my house, the raking process has involved:

  • raking leaves into properly sized piles
  • pulling out a tarp
  • raking the leaves onto the tarp
  • dragging the tarp with the leaves (trying not to lose too many) across the street to a gully
  • dumping the leaves in the gully
  • walking back across the street
  • going to another leaf pile
  • repeat (until done)

This process would take the better part of three or four full days to complete. Which I did dutifully for a decade. In my mind, I had to do this. The assumption equation I held was:  Fall + Leaves = Raking Then, one of my friends let me in on a little secret, an alternate equation:

Fall + Leaves = Mowing

Mowing?  Could it be?

It turns out that mowing the leaves mulches them into the ground.  By the time it snows in Winter and melts in the Spring, the leaves will be gone. This process?

  • Get out mower
  • Mow over leaves
  • Put mower away
  • Done

The first thought I had once I started mowing: How could I have done it the old way for so long!?  (Side note: I almost wanted to cry.)

As leaders, it’s so easy to get sucked into old habit patterns of how things “must” be.

Which assumptions do you hold as “certain truths”?

The first step to questioning assumptions is to be aware of what assumptions you actually hold.

Then you can test and challenge them: and see what really works best.

It’s time to put down the rake.

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