Friday, April 06, 2007

The Assumptions Trap In Predicting Outcomes

Here is a story illustrating how beliefs we have create assumptions that can create their own set of issues and problems.

Having the freedom to choose, to me, is a very liberating idea. I first became really aware of the role choice plays in my responses and living while reading the perennial best-seller by Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. When I read the section dealing with choice, it struck me as a tremendously liberating concept, and one that, at that time in my life, I really needed to hold on to and make part of my own beliefs. The belief in choices went a long way to helping me get rid of a victim complex, and begin to understand my own freedom to choose.

Later, when I was conducting a seminar on leadership, the opportunity to introduce and discuss the concept of choice presented itself. The participants in the seminar were first and second level supervisors and managers for a large industrial company located in Atlanta. The response to the personal choice presentation and discussion was, at best, mixed. Some people looked at me like I was from another planet, some looked like they wanted to be somewhere else, and some seemed positively in agreement and accepting of the concept. Overall, the discussion of choice - that I had been so eager to introduce and that I was so sure would have enthusiastic support – didn't have the positive effect I assumed it would.

After the seminar was over, I reviewed what had happened with a well known and respected seminar leader, and I mentioned the mixed response to what I felt was one of the most powerful messages in the seminar. Her answer was to tell me that in her opinion many people are not liberated by the idea of choice; that many people are threatened by choice; that many people are willing and even comfortable in letting others make choices for them; and that many people view the idea of choices more as a burden than as an opportunity.

That blew me away! But experience has led me to better understand what she meant. No wonder the idea of choice in investment decisions with Social Security funds meets with such a mixed review by the voters – given the views of choice by many people in our society, that was a negative, not a positive.

Well, there went another of my assumptions – that choice would be seen as a good thing by most if not all people. That is an example of the kind of assumptions we make on a daily basis that lead us to predict outcomes and results - only to be disappointed.

I continue to believe in the power of personal choice, but I no longer assume others do. And I try to always examine my thinking to see if I have set up any minefields where I have used personal assumptions to arrive at conclusions. Good advice if you are a politician, or a leader, or someone looking to influence others to your way of thinking.

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