Saturday, 23 July 2011

Challenging Assumptions

Questioning assumptions is a crucial exercise for anyone looking to establish themselves as a revolutionary thinker and problem solver.

Despite this, the critical analysis of textbook theory or accepted business practices is not something I see many students readily undertaking. It’s something I strongly encourage them to do. Afterall, if you look at history, the people who have changed the world are the ones who have questioned established thinking. Take Mahatma Gandhi as just one example. During his time most of the people who were fighting against the Indian Government were doing so using violent means. But he questioned the assumption that violence was a necessity and wondered if maybe there was a better way. When it comes to a business context, I try to illustrate that if you really want to be unique, then you too must think differently. If you don’t, you’ll probably just come to the same conclusions as everybody else.

One of the ways to challenge perceptions is to closely examine the assumptions of a particular framework or theory or practice and question why it has to happen that way. Consider the field of marketing as an example. We’re constantly bombarded with the idea that the best way to succeed in the marketplace is to understand the needs and wants of consumers and meet those needs better than everybody else. I don’t think there’s enough questioning of that fundamental assumption. Indeed, what if we asked the following questions: do consumers really know what they want? Do they know what kind of smartphone they want in five-years? Very few could tell you that, yet operating on the above assumption may mean that you’re constrained by their vision, not yours. Therefore you’re driven, not driving.

In the classroom I tell students that they may one day find themselves in a situation where 100 people are looking at the same management or marketing challenge. But by pushing key assumptions from the problem, they may well be able to come up with a solution that is truly unique.

Author: De Ranjit Voola – University of Sydney Business School

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