Assume Nothing

Budgets are tight, jobs are scarce, and unfortunately many employees are holding their breath, hoping their companies will be able to sustain their jobs. But according to Robert B. Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group in Santa Barbara, California, it’s every worker’s individual responsibility to prove their value in a company. His latest book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How to Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hypercompetitive World (Wiley; $21.95), gives broad advice on how professionals can drive change in their organizations by altering their mindset and behavior. Here he elaborates on the importance of dispelling organizational and personal assumptions.

What assumptions do you find most employees focus on?
There are two assumptions that seem to halt innovation in its tracks more than others: “This is how it’s always been done, so this is how we’ll continue doing it.” This organizational assumption is one of the biggest obstacles faced by employees. [The other is]”I’m not capable of innovating.” The belief that innovation is reserved for an elite group of super-geniuses.

How does holding onto assumptions prevent employees from being innovative?
Innovation begins where assumptions end. Our assumptions are just preconceived notions about how certain things should be done. They become rooted in our practices based on our personal experience or the organization’s. Going with assumptions is comfortable, but it also means there will not be any new growth. Growth requires innovation, and therefore, people must move beyond their assumptions.

How do you distinguish between true and false assumptions?
Assumptions are often based on some piece of data or experience. Rarely are they completely made up without any evidence to support them. The problem lies in people’s use of assumptions to cancel out any alternative solution. While one assumption may be based on years of experience and data, that does not mean that an alternative idea is completely wrong. They could both be right. The key to growth is experimenting and discovering the assumptions that produce the absolute best results.

When employees learn to abandon assumptions, where do they start to see benefits?
Assumptions put limitations on our ability to stretch our thinking. They draw a line in the sand that our mental abilities dare not cross because ideas on the other side are too unorthodox. When given free rein over our thinking, we start to see alternative solutions and new opportunities in our daily lives. Small innovations typically follow, such as streamlining simple tasks, or reorganizing our schedule in a new, more efficient way. Once you have a taste for this kind of improvement, you’ll start to suggest innovations that also influence other members of your organization, and this is when organizational assumptions start to be assaulted.