This past winter, my daughter realized she was driving on a flat tire on a rural road with no place to pull over. She called me and I met her there to show her how to change the tire to the spare and then take it to the shop for repair.  It was a simple objective and required a simple strategy.  Except that I hadn’t challenged and validated my assumptions as I should have.

When I arrived at my daughter’s car, I showed her how to get the spare tire out and placed the jack under the lift point on the car. But the bar to rotate the jack and lift the car was not there. Great strategy failure for want of validating assumptions.  In this case, I assumed that all the necessary elements were there, but they weren’t.  Thankfully, I had what I needed in the car we brought. And since that one bar is not sold alone, we bought another jack for that car.

What does this mean for businesses and senior leaders? When you set out to achieve an objective, you really need to spend the most time and brain power on aggressively challenging an validating your assumptions. Your team might think you can do this in a couple of hours, but it ought to take you days of discussion and research.

If you are opening a specialty restaurant or planning to put a new item on the menu, you need to be certain that your supplier can provide you with the amounts you think you need (another assumption) on the days you need it. If you are a Mediterranean restaurant, you can’t run out of Feta cheese for a day, let alone a week. Likewise, if you are in the South, don’t be surprised when your Wednesday night clientele is low due to church attendance.

The same goes if you are making widgets of some kind and you are increasing production or altering color. You need to know that your suppliers have capacity to get you what you need and when and that it is of the right quality to proceed. You also need to consider things like industry standardization and whether your widgets will be able to fit on the existing shelves of your retailers.  If you increase the number by 5%, how much additional transport space will you have to purchase? Will that additional 5% nicely fit in shipping containers or will you be paying for additional shipping space that is largely empty?

So try this mental exercise: Pick any activity you undertake with regularity and see if you can determine how many assumptions you make without even realizing you’re making them.  Start easy and then work your way to more complex tasks.

Keep thinking. Peace be with you all.

By | 2017-11-23T18:26:06+00:00 July 21st, 2015|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tom Ruby

Tom Ruby is a retired Air Force Colonel who served 26 years on active duty in positions from Squadron Intelligence Officer, to Chief of Doctrine for the AF ISR Enterprise, to Chief of Special Programs for the Air Force Materiel Command. He was Associate Dean of the Air Command and Staff College where he developed exchange programs with the NATO School, the French École Militaire, the German General Staff College and Poland’s National Defense University. He served on General Petraeus’ Joint Strategic Assessment Team as well as in three combat deployments. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Kentucky, and actively mentors graduate students through the American Political Science Association. He is widely published and speaks globally on topics from critical thinking, to leadership, to strategy, to morality in warfare. He is currently CEO of Bluegrass Critical Thinking Solutions, a business and defense consulting firm.

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