The Paralympians in Rio have demonstrated undoubtedly this summer that they are capable of incredible things. To cite but a few phenomenal achievements, four Paralympians ran the 1500m quicker than the Olympic gold medallist, Ellie Simmonds who won her first gold at age 13 has won even more medals and become the first SM6 swimmer to complete the 200m medley in under 3 minutes. Dame Sarah Storey, with 14 gold medals, became the most decorated British Paralympian of all time. And the flag bearer for the closing ceremony, Kadeena Cox, became the first British competitor to top the podium in two different sports since 1984, two years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Channel 4’s ‘Yes I can!’ advert for the Paralympics aimed to change attitudes. It includes a pilot who flies a plane with her feet (and by the way also has a black belt in taekwondo and a psychology degree), and a mom without arms changing her baby’s nappy. I can certainly say it has challenged my own assumptions!
The potential of people is clearly awesome – but could be so easily overlooked. We are guilty of making assumptions about people’s attitudes, their capabilities or their commitment – it clouds our thinking and can blind us to the possibilities. We assume there’s only one way to go about something, and we struggle to see beyond the conventional way, the way that things have always been done.
In our Lean Six Sigma training we often refer to the quote by Einstein that says, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Thinking about things in different ways means challenging assumptions, including things that “have always been this way”, To be effective we need to make people aware of the assumptions and encourage an atmosphere where challenge is positive and welcomed. The name of the technique is Assumption Busting.
It is simple, quick, and it can help us to find new and different ways to do things and deliver brilliant things. Here’s how, in 3 steps:
- Identify the assumptions (and don’t miss the obvious ones)
- Challenge them. It can’t be done? Why not?
- Identify how it can be done. Asking ‘what if…?’ can be helpful here
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world”, wrote Isaac Asimov, “Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in”.
And perhaps an “it can’t be done” can be turned into a “Yes I can!”
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