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How well do you challenge assumptions when problem-solving?

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How well do you challenge assumptions when problem-solving?

  • Very — I make sure all assumptions are explicit and understand their impact: 43%
  • Mostly — I’ll accept some assumptions at face value: 54%
  • Not very — I take assumptions at face value and often fail to challenge them: 3%
  • Not at all — Assumptions are there to save time. I don’t question them: 1%

Assume Nothing. Assumptions can be a great shortcut. They save time. They eliminate unnecessary analysis. They can also be dangerous. Get a major assumption even a little bit wrong (or a minor assumption very wrong) and your entire plan can crumble. When crafting assumptions and deciding whether or not to validate them, use others as a sounding board. You might be bringing unconscious bias into the situation. That bias can lead you to overestimate your knowledge of the situation as well as get you to view your assumption too optimistically. Oftentimes it’s that “face value” assumption we blindly accept that proves to be our undoing.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He’s the author of three leadership books: “One Piece of Paper,” “Lead Inside the Box,” and “The Elegant Pitch.”