Never Assume Anything

Never assume anything – introduction

Are you sure that the way you perceive things is the way they really are? Are you willing to challenge the norm in order to succeed?

Making assumptions is something we all do in many areas of our lives. An assumption is “something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof.” In other words, it is belief without proof.

One example that immediately comes to mind is the assumption that you are what you do. Statements such as “I am a doctor” or “I am a lawyer” are examples. Your are not a doctor or a lawyer, you just happen to practise law or medicine.

Never assume anything – common assumptions

As illustrated, society’s language reinforces this false assumption. The truth is that we are more than what we do. In one lifetime one can be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer and an entrepreneur all at once. I happen to know a few people who have such combinations of qualifications. They are people that have not fallen for this assumption.

Another common assumption is that of thinking having more money will solve your money problems. Ask the guy who inherited a million dollars and lost it all in a year or so whether it sorted out his problems. Knowing how to make money, make it grow and learning how to invest it wisely are part of the answer. Having more money is not the answer, but financial intelligence is the answer.

How about the assumption that having your own business is risky? Many would agree to that no doubt. Having a job is the more secure thing to do. But are you sure? If you really think about it and analyse things deeply you might find that having a secure job is actually more risky than being in business for yourself. Consider such statistics as the ones pointing to the fact that less than ten percent of retirees have enough money to look after themselves once they stop working. Isn’t that risky?

Never assume anything – don’t be a monkey

Michael Michalko in the second edition of the book Thinkertoys, gives a very interesting example of behaviour that is based on assumptions. He asks the reader to imagine a cage containing five monkeys. A banana is then hung on a string inside the cage and a set of stairs placed in the cage leading up to the banana. Whenever a monkey goes up the stairs and grabs the banana, ice-cold water is poured on all the monkeys in the cage. Very soon, as the monkeys begin to associate touching the banana with being sprayed with ice-cold water they will try to prevent one another from trying to get the banana.

The cold water is then turned off and one monkey removed from the cage and replaced with another that doesn’t know anything about the cold water. This new monkey will inevitably try to get the banana, but the other four monkeys will attack him to stop him from doing so.

If another of the old monkeys is removed and replaced with a newcomer, this newcomer will try to grab the banana. The previous newcomer will gladly take part in beating him up together with the other monkeys in order to prevent him from climbing the stairs to the banana.

Slowly, all the original monkey can be replaced with new monkeys in this manner. The cage will now be totally filled with monkeys that know nothing about the ice-cold water, but they will all not try to get the banana and continue to attack any monkey that tries to do so. “No monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why Not? Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here. Don’t be a monkey. Challenge all assumptions.” These are Michalko’s words of advice.

Never assume anything – how do you see things?Another wise person said “Often, our actions and assumptions continue long after the reasons for them have passed.” That is why picking up things and doing them because others have always done and continue to do them that way is never a good idea.

Any person who desires to be a great success and be a leader both to themselves and to others must not take anything for granted. Stephen Covey said “we simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviours grow out of these assumptions.”

Your assumptions can influence your attitudes and behaviours in a big way and so ultimately influence your future. It is always necessary in any given circumstance to ask the question “why?” before doing or not doing anything.

Why can’t you be wealthy? Why can’t you be great? Why can’t you be the person that brings about great change? If you truly analyse these questions and try to answer them you will find that most of your answers will be only assumptions and, at the very least, excuses.

Never assume anything – free yourself

John Gardner pointed to the importance of being free of assumptions in order to succeed when he said “the creative individual has the capacity to free himself from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. He is capable of questioning the assumptions that the rest of us accept.”

Never assume anything – avoid the monkey mentality

I have found that, as a general rule, if most people are doing something, then I should question why they are doing it, and most likely I should not do it.

The monkey mentality is widespread in society. Considering the fact that only 3% of any population are truly successful it is probably a better idea to follow the minority rather than the majority.

Is it any wonder that the richest one per cent of the world's population owns 40 per cent of the total household wealth, while the bottom half of the world makes do with barely one per cent? The majority can be wrong. The reason they can be wrong is that they have the wrong assumptions about life, money and success.

Never assume anything – conclusion

Always challenge the norm and seek out the answers for yourself. Follow no one blindly. Do nothing without first seeking to understand why. Always keep an open mind. Most importantly, believe in yourself and the fact that you are different and what you think matters more than what society says.

Alan Alda’s advice makes for a fitting conclusion: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.



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