We were recently asked, “When is it most helpful for leaders to make assumptions?” Here’s our answer.
We believe there are definitely times when assumptions can be very helpful. The key is to recognize when you’re making assumptions and to distinguish between those that can benefit you and those that can harm you.
It’s true that you can’t afford to take the time to question everything. In fact, research shows that our tendency to make assumptions is hard-wired into our brains and helps us function in the world. Consider the following scenarios:
- Dealing with a crisis where immediate action needs to occur to avoid loss of life or significant damage. Think about escaping from a burning building. To survive, we need to think optimistically and assume that the best path to safety is the closest available exit.
- Participating in everyday life, such as driving a car. We might never leave our homes if we didn’t assume that other drivers will cooperate with traffic laws and that we’ll arrive safely at our destination.
That being said, basing assumptions on past experience needs to be tempered by the knowledge that we live in a constantly changing business environment. This means that as the world continually evolves, important aspects of the situation are likely to change at any point. This can include the people involved, their expectations, your expectations, and more. The more aware you are of what’s the same, and what’s different, the more effective your assumptions will be.
That’s why the best way to distinguish between helpful and harmful assumptions, especially when you’re confronted with situations that seem similar to your previous experience, is to stay current with a variety of stakeholder groups. These include customers, employees, alliance partners, and others who can help you stay up to date with changes in the world that you might not otherwise notice.
Taking advantage of the diverse perspectives of various stakeholders enables you to consciously and unconsciously expand your personal experience base and strengthen your “gut instincts.” Then, when you need to make quick decisions, the assumptions you make will have the best chance of leading to a successful outcome.
To hear more about how you can use your various stakeholders to reach more powerful decisions faster. listen to our Growth Igniters Radio podcast episode #93, “Need to Pivot? Tap Into Your Organization’s Intelligence.”