How to Challenge Assumptions
(An excerpt from the e-book "Problem Solving
Challenging assumptions is one of the most powerful ways to
generate new ideas. But the hardest part is identifying all the
the things we are assuming so that we can challenge them. Learn
to do this, though, and you'll have some truly creative ideas
and effective solutions.
Start the process with a pen and paper. For an example of
this exercise in action, we will assume the following invented
scenario: You own a bicycle manufacturing company, and you want
to create a new product to sell.
How do you get some new and really creative ideas to explore?
Write down all your assumptions. These may include:
1. Bicycles need wheels.
2. People buy bicycles to get from here to there.
3. Bicycles need two wheels.
4. They have to be powered by a persons legs
5. We have to sell them.
6. They need to be made of metal.
7. We need a new product.
When you are done you should have a list much longer than
this one. Don't hesitate to write down even the most obvious
"truths." When you are done, you can begin challenging
each assumption on the list.
1. Does a bicycle need wheels? You imagine a "bike"
with skis that hydroplanes on water when you pedal fast enough.
You jot the idea down.
2. Does the rider have to go somewhere? A bike that goes nowhere?
Maybe an exercise bike that runs a TV set? You only get to watch
TV when you are pedaling. A video game that is controlled by
riding a stationary bicycle?
3. Four wheels? What are the advantages? Where is the market?
You write down anything that comes to mind.
4. Why only leg power? A pedaling device for use with the
hands? A new mini-motor for bikes?
5. Not sell them? Maybe rent them. Maybe the water-bike from
above would be a good beach rental. Sell to vendors, who rent
to the ultimate consumer.
6. What are the alternatives to metal? What are the advantages
of fiberglass or plastic?
7. Do you really need a new product? What if you drop the
whole idea of a new product? Maybe there is more money to be
made marketing the existing products in new ways. That would
save the cost of retooling. You write down some new ideas on
marketing your existing bikes.
Notice that number seven challenges the problem itself. Challenging
the primary assumption, or the definition of the problem, can
often yield the most useful ideas. It can be tough to identify
these "hidden" assumptions.
Would you normally think to add to your list the assumption
"I have to solve this?" Doing so could lead you to
the realization that delegating it to the engineers would be
the best way to go. When you challenge what you previously assumed,
look for all the assumptions to get the widest variety