Is It Time You Checked Your Assumptions?

Last Updated Oct 8, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

When I was four years old I found a sparrow with a damaged wing in the garden. For a day or two my mother and I kept it in a box in our garage and fed it on bread soaked in milk. Then, one morning, it had disappeared. I asked my mum where it was and she told me it had flown away.

I was reminiscing with my mum about this story a couple of years ago when she turned to me and said, "But Stuart, the sparrow died. I had to put it in the bin."

Of course the sparrow had died. It could never have survived a broken wing. But for over 35 years I had never questioned the idea that it had simply got better and flown away.

I don't think that I am alone in failing to challenge some basic assumptions and wanting, unquestioningly, to believe the most attractive answer. Take these examples:

  • The leaders of the world's major banks have carried a belief that they could remain fireproof to higher-risk loans, and have either not carried out or failed to understand their own risk assessments.
  • According to Gary Hamel in his book, "The Future of Management", the US car industry has taken over twenty years to really understand the 'secret' of Toyota's success in North America, let alone respond to it.
Time and again, market leaders hang on too long to the model that brought historic success but which becomes redundant in the face of customer, competitor or technological changes. Think of Kodak's inability to succeed in digital photography or the problems of European airlines in responding to Ryanair and other low-cost carriers.

We all hold onto certain assumptions that may or may not be true. But in these, more turbulent times, the rules of business can change radically and so must your assumptions -- even those you have never before explicitly questioned.

What are the assumptions that you are holding about your business that you haven't fully challenged?

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.