In this third article, we’ll explain the impact of the assumptions and beliefs that we may not even know we have, and what to do about it.

We need to make different decisions, and we can.

In the last couple of articles, we’ve seen how our brain makes decisions, and that there can be opportunities to change how we work. Many of us have made some changes already – working from home has challenged a lot of our beliefs about what’s possible! This was a situation where we were forced to explore alternate ideas about work. However, we don’t actually need to have a crisis before new solutions can be found.

Some people hear this, and say, “That’s great, but why should I do that?” The answer is in the first article in this series – basically, our experience and intuitions don’t always serve us well in new environments. But new environments aren’t always as obvious as being forced to work from home.

For example, let’s imagine a software developer and their start-up business. At first, it might just be them and a partner working at someone’s kitchen table. When things go well, a few years later they could have a team of seven or eight people, and perhaps a few years after that, they make the leap to having multiple teams. At this point, they’re starting to become the manager or CEO of a small business. The experience they’ve built through that journey is useful because they’re able to see things from the perspective of a developer. But some of the experiences they’ve had will also be negatively affecting the decisions they make in their new role because being a developer is not the same as being a CEO. They’re in a new environment, where their current intuition may not serve them well. What they need is a way to benefit from the experiences they’ve had, without being limited to that perspective.

Raising and Challenging Assumptions

The way to do this is actually surprisingly simple. When faced with a situation that you’d like a new approach to, start writing a list of all the assumptions or beliefs you have about why the situation is currently the way it is (or why the current approach is the best option). The bigger the list you make, the better. What people usually find is that most of the list – often over 90% – is absolutely true. But they also usually find that there are one or two things on the list which don’t actually have to be the way they currently are, and this is where the possibility of creative solutions comes in.

Let’s look at an example of this relating to the software industry: the idea that you can’t have both speedy development and a high-quality end result. We start by writing down some of the assumptions which support that idea:

  • going faster decreases quality;
  • quality steps slow us down;
  • going fast creates more bugs and rework;
  • quality steps cause slower decisions;
  • reviews slow us down; and
  • no quality step increases speed.

If you’re familiar with the software industry, you might have already spotted a couple of things that aren’t necessarily true. In particular, the last item on the list – that no quality step increases speed – is a good example. Once we start examining the impact of all the rework required by bug-fixing, or if a developer goes off in the wrong direction for a few weeks, we can see that a review perhaps 20% to 30% of the way through the task would catch a lot of mistakes and speed things up overall. In other words, the assumption is clearly untrue: quality steps actually can increase speed.

Behind the Scenes

You’ll remember from the first article in this series that your brain likes to stay in System One as much as it can, to make decisions more quickly and easily. Our beliefs and assumptions sit in the back of our brains in System One as well, where they get used as part of that quick and easy decision-making. Unfortunately, that also keeps our beliefs stable – they’re being used, not examined, so they tend not to change. And, when our beliefs are limiting us, that also prevents those limitations from being overcome. The process of raising assumptions is a process for dragging those beliefs into System Two, where they can be examined and challenged. This clears a space for creative solutions to emerge.

When we write down our assumptions and examine them, we often find that many of our assumptions still seem to be true. And that’s OK because what we’re looking for is the one or two which can be challenged and allow a new solution to emerge.

Comparative Advantage

One final thing to note – many assumptions are common across an entire industry, or throughout a large business. If you can look at these assumptions and find a way to effectively challenge one, you have created the potential for a dramatic, breakthrough solution. Even better, most of the market simply will not be able to use this solution because their assumptions have not changed in the same way yours have! As you can see there can be real advantages in being able to challenge and change your own beliefs.

Take advantage of the new environment you’re working in and see if you can find some of your beliefs that would benefit from being challenged. The results might surprise you.

Want to hear more about this, and other decision making tools?

Over the next three articles in our Working from Home series, we’ll explain how you can use these three techniques to make better decisions in a bit more depth. Using these techniques, you will be able to make better, clearer decisions in this different environment that you’re in now, and also in any environment that you’re in in the future.

Can’t wait?

Visit our YouTube channel now for more video content on useful productivity tips!