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The Assumption Factor

How assumptions can derail our decisions

“This amounts to cheating. We should take action”. Agitation was overflowing in my voice.

“This is Unethical. The rule is clear. He is not someone new. He has been doing it for years. He should be aware of the rules “, My friend shouted.

However, Mr. Anil just smiled and said “Let us not assume things”

“Do you mean to say that he is unaware of the rules. The fact that he has been around for so many years in this field makes me feel certain about his knowledge”, my friend quipped.

“You are in this position for almost a year now. Are you in touch with the changes in the rules. These rules keep changing” Anil replied calmly.

He went on to prove his point by questioning our knowledge around our work area. We failed.

I got the message.

Quite often, we are in a rush to conclude and paint people or situation with the color that pops up in our mind.

Relax. Take a breath. Assumptions are the deadliest weapons of destruction. It can thwart trust in a relationship within seconds. It can derail one’s progress in a field in nanoseconds.

How often you paint the picture or drive your decisions, without questioning the assumptions?

Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associates, talks about a particular lowest point in time in his life where he lost the business he built and was impelled to borrow $4,000 from his father to restart his business. The biggest lesson he learned from that episode is from the statement “I am right” to the question “How am I right?”

Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” talks about two systems that are being followed in our mind. System 1 which is thinking fast and System 2 is thinking slow. In a layman’s language, System1 follows intuition and System 2 follows the logic and rationale.

Most of us identify ourselves with System 2. We assume that we are rational in our decisions. However, the fact remains that we engage System 1 in most situations. System 2 gets activated only when things turn too complex. System 1 works brilliantly in most situations but may not necessarily be in all situations.

One of the biggest problems with System 1 is that it seeks to quickly create a coherent, plausible story — an explanation for what is happening — by relying on associations and memories, pattern-matching, and assumptions. And System 1 will default to that plausible, convenient story — even if that story is based on incorrect information.

We need to consciously question the plausible story and activate our System 2 especially in situations where we tend to assume the intention of another person.

The starting point is volitional questioning of assumptions we make in our daily lives. In other words, a deliberate movement from the statement “I am right” to question “How am I right”

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