When was the last time you examined your assumptions? How about your organization’s assumptions? An assumption, you remember, is a fact or statement taken for granted. Why do assumptions need to be examined? Looking back at history, it’s easy to see many that turned out to be nowhere near correct. For example, the earth is not flat and the sun doesn’t orbit the earth. Hindsight and a more accurate understanding of science has made it easy to spot these invalid assumptions and call them for what they are: old wives’ tales.
What about assumptions that are less scientific in nature? Say, for example, the underlying assumptions that drive the decisions in your organization? Have you ever slowed down long enough to carefully examine them to see if they’re still true?
I’ve been reading Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson and Derek Van Bever, a study of Fortune 100-sized companies that looks for the reasons behind growth stalls. The companies in the study had experienced prolonged healthy growth, reached a point in time, and then suddenly gone into free-fall. Some recovered and returned to previous strength. Many have not. The list is long but many of the names are familiar. Levi Strauss, Apple, IBM, 3M, Sears, Kmart, etc.
Simply put, a stall point is “a distinct downward inflection in the growth rate that, for the most part, is a one-time event with lasting consequences (p. 32).”
What led to their stall points? In large part, unexamined assumptions that were no longer correct. Unlike the prevailing notion that the earth was flat, the assumptions that led to the stall points in many of these organizations had been true at one time…but were no longer true. Examples would be IBM’s 1968 assumption that personal computers would “never meet the demands of core mainframe customers” or Apple’s 1988 assumption that “higher profit margins justifies ceding market share (p. 40-41).”
So those are examples of unexamined and invalid assumptions at IBM and Apple. Obviously, both companies have recovered. I’ve written previously about North Point’s effort to re-examine all of its assumptions.
What might be an assumption you are making in your organization? For more on this topic you might want to take a look at Ready To Go On An Assumption Hunt?