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.
I will do the following from now on. If you want to, try doing this as well:
- 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
- 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?”
- Check or look up whatever it may be immediately or add it as a to-do-task on your to-do-list.
- 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.
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
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.