We all hold assumptions.  Assumptions guide our behavior and help us make decisions on a daily basis. At times, assumptions can be helpful.

For instance, we use a variety of assumptions when driving. When we see the brake lights on the car in front of us we assume that car is slowing down and therefore, we also press our brake pedal. This assumption keeps us safe. However, there are other reasons why the brake lights might go on in the car in front of us. Maybe they have an electrical short. Maybe they are tapping the brake to the music. While these reasons are possibilities, they are unlikely, so we drive down the street assuming that seeing brake lights means the car in front of us is slowing down. Please, continue operating under this assumption!

However, assumptions can also get in the way. They can keep us trapped in one way of thinking and prevent us from being creative. When we can stop making assumptions about our problem or challenge we can be more creative. New ideas emerge when we suspend or reverse assumptions.

Let me tell you about Grace Lim. I met her in October when we were both speaking at the Wisconsin Library Association conference. She is a self-described, back-of-the-pack, marathon runner. During one of her training runs she wondered why the fastest runners are the ones who get sponsored. Why not the slower runners? Why not her? Really, if you think about it, the slower runners will give the sponsors more time for spectators and other runners to see their logos. They’d get more return on their investment. So, Grace Lim sent letters to dozens of companies asking if they would sponsor her. They said yes! Soon she ran out of space on her jersey and start selling space on her legs. Left thigh for $500, anyone? Her sponsors made a good choice because Lim was written up in over 70 articles, like this one in the NY Times. Instead of their logos zooming by the crowd in a mere 2 hours, she was stopping to have a beer with the crowd and cruising across the finish line in 5 hours.

During that fateful training run, Lim looked at the assumption – the fastest runners get sponsors. Then, she reversed it – what if slowest runners could get sponsors? Then, she took a leap and checked to see if the assumption was true. Clearly it wasn’t.

What assumptions are you holding that are preventing you from being creative? Maybe you have been thinking:

  • This solution will be too expensive
  • The boss will never agree to this
  • It’s a policy so we can’t do that (remember all policies are created by humans)
  • I’m not good enough (this is such a common assumption that it is called the Imposter Syndrome)

What if those assumptions weren’t true?

Pay attention this week to assumptions you are making. Suspend the assumption and see what new ideas emerge? Dream big! You never know what might happen.

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