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06 May

Assumptions is the mother of all screw ups

Datum: 2015-05-06 12:00
Three red warning flags on a beach by a stormy sea.

Last april I held a course at a lead­ing com­pa­ny in the light­ing-indus­try which is grow­ing and expand­ing quick­ly. At lunch one of the par­tic­i­pants told me about how the fol­low­ing quote had stuck with him: Assump­tions is the moth­er of all screw ups”.

Doing a quick Google-search will tell you that it was most like­ly Eugene Lewis Fordsworthe who coined the expres­sion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the same search does not reveal who this Fordsworthe was. If you hap­pen to know, please tell me. I would love to know.

Any­how, I like the quote and believe that there is a lot of truth to it.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Sure, assum­ing some­thing is some­times entire­ly nec­es­sary and then you are bet­ter off mak­ing an assump­tion, but I still felt it rang a bell. I have car­ried this state­ment with me at the back of my mind ever since, and fig­ured that it would be worth writ­ing about at some point.

Today, I got to expe­ri­ence the full mean­ing of this catchy phrase first-hand.

The same pro­ce­dure as last time?

Lat­er this week I am giv­ing the sec­ond ses­sion in a series of cours­es for a new client. The course descrip­tion is the same as last time, the con­tent is the same and the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants is just as high as last time. We are basi­cal­ly doing the same thing as last time — more of same”, so to say. Or rather, every­thing the same”.

I hence assumed that we were hav­ing the course in the same con­fer­ence-hotel as we did last time, but no, this time we are going to be in a dif­fer­ent loca­tion on the oth­er side of town. A heavy and unwieldy pack­age I had sent to the loca­tion had there­fore end­ed up on the wrong side of the city and would need to be moved in good time before the course. I solved it with­out much trou­ble, but it took a good while and cost me both ener­gy and mon­ey, so I am not keen on mak­ing the same mis­take again.

From now on I will be care­ful with mak­ing assumptions.

Do this

I will do the fol­low­ing from now on. If you want to, try doing this as well: 

  1. The next time you (I) notice that you are mak­ing an assump­tion, give your­self a men­tal warn­ing. It could for instance be that you make assump­tions regarding:
    • that some­one saw and under­stood what was written
    • that it is in the same loca­tion as last time (!)
    • that the deal you got last time you pur­chased some­thing is the same this time
    • that some­one knew what was cru­cial to know in order to make some­thing work when you del­e­gat­ed respon­si­bil­i­ty for some­thing to them
    • that some­one did some­thing about the problem
    • that some­one else informed a third par­ty about what happened
    • or some­thing entire­ly different
  2. Think OK, I am mak­ing an assump­tion. If there is a great risk that mis­takes and mis­un­der­stand­ings will be the con­se­quence of doing so, what infor­ma­tion or facts could I pos­si­bly look up and who could I ask?
  3. Check or look up what­ev­er it may be imme­di­ate­ly or add it as a to-do-task on your to-do-list.
  4. When you have made sure you know what is what, just relax and enjoy that you now know what you need to know for cer­tain and notice how good this cer­tain­ty feels.

Dou­ble-check­ing matters

If you dou­ble check some­thing rather than just assume you know, you will expe­ri­ence few­er mis­un­der­stand­ings and make few­er mis­takes. Few­er prob­lems will need to be dealt with by impro­vis­ing when you are stressed and do not real­ly have time to deal with it, and you will have more time and ener­gy for more long-term, high­ly pri­or­i­tized but not so urgent tasks.

What is your way?

What would be your num­ber one tip for avoid­ing mis­un­der­stand­ings? Tell me!

There's more where this came from

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