Way back in 2008, in the winters of Pune, I along with one of my friends were having a sumptuous buffet dinner in a restaurant of the hotel. In the candlelights and gentle music of the restaurant, we discussed the lighting of the hall. In such a wonderful dinner would you even think that you would end up questioning your assumptions? No, isn’t it? My evening was going to be different, I learned a great lesson on questioning assumptions at the dinner table.
This hall was lit with yellow-colored lights neither so bright nor dimly lit. My friend asked me why the height of this restaurant room is more than the rooms of the hotel rooms upstairs? That was an interesting question I never asked this question to myself or to anyone else.
The next day we were sitting in a meeting for exploring the possibility of licensing some Intellectual Property (IP) of my friend with another interested professional group. We finished the meeting late in the evening. After the meeting, we had some snacks and went out for a walk. We were speaking on various issues right from our meeting and way forward to how is his business going and what are my plans. I was planning to do my MBA at that time. It was evening, therefore in a while street lights lit up.
The street light sparked another discussion for us. This was an interesting spark, it moved the discussion on how innovation can happen in a blink of an eye. Additionally, how we can miss out on an opportunity to innovate just by accepting the assumptions.
Question your assumptions
The moment these lights lit, he suddenly asked me – “have you ever thought why these streetlight poles are this tall? Why these poles are say X meters and not 2X meters or X/2 meters in length? Can you think of possible reasons for the height?” I tried some possible answers as per my limited knowledge. However I didn’t know the actual reason, so I requested if he can tell me.
He said the length of the poles has not changed for almost a century. In old days there were some types of streetlights that gave the best illumination (light rendering) on the road if the bulb is kept at a certain height. Though in the whole century technology of bulbs has evolved; but not the length of the poles (especially in India).
I asked him, so why not change the length of these poles? Is it rocket science to find out the best illumination for current street bulbs? He said, now for the current technology length of the pole can be reduced to about 70%. Just imagine if we save 30% of steel on each pole how much we can save? That was an interesting idea.
Literally – Streetlight lit my brain
This dinner, meeting, and walk as a whole taught me a lot. My friend was so thoughtful that he questioned many assumptions. He could convert these questions into useful opportunities. I realized that an innovator is always on the lookout to question assumptions. Here is a list of a few questions you can ask yourself for questioning your assumptions. Do share if we can improve this list further.
- Why are we doing this thing or that thing?
- Why are we doing this in a particular way?
- Is my thought or belief correct? [on a lighter note do not think about religion ;)]
- Why do I believe my thoughts are correct?
- Is there any logical explanation to my belief?
- What is contrary to my current belief?
- Can the contrary of my current belief be correct?
The innovator is always looking for some workaround, solution, or better way of doing something or the other. Possible an innovator is looking at multiple ways of doing the same thing. Occasionally this results in breaking the assumption themselves.
Learning questioning your assumptions from a prospective client
In past, I – along with some of my colleagues – was working on a business model, and we had thought of some possible monetization approaches. These approaches included what assumptions we have in our mind, what is the target market et al. When we went to the market our prospective clients (partners) started giving us more options, creating more slices and dices of the services, customization of offerings/schedule of charge.
Initially, we were somewhat restrained. We were reluctant to consider the ideas/service offering charges with reservations. Slowly we started accepting this. It was interesting to see these slicing and dicing by prospective clients. They were creating more opportunities for us. They were unwittingly helping us explore more possibilities.
There were learnings in these experiences. The challenge we face many a times are not outside, the challenges are our owns assumptions. When we start looking at things in a different perspective, when one starts questioning assumptions new opportunities emerge.
An open mind provides opportunity for innovation as well as doing business in a better way – so Question your assumptions.
Note – This is a story of 2008. I have published variation of this article in multiple presentations and articles online – e.g. My Business to the Buddha blog, LinkedIn.