7 Ways To Challenge Your Assumptions and Find Your Path to Success


Here's the scenario: you've finally put some of your goals down on paper and start brainstorming the path to achieving them or perhaps you're a business owner putting together a plan for the next 3 years or so before you exit your company.  You've clarified your goals, got a plan written down, but now you're overwhelmed with what lies ahead.  This is a really big step that many people never take but many people stop there, with the ideas out of their heads onto the paper but never to be executed because of what appears to be a daunting time ahead.  This post is about the next critical step in goal setting or project planning, personally or in your business.  Challenging the underlying assumptions in your goals and plan can really take it up level and create a much clearer path to success.  This post will be about 7 assumptions most often found in project planning and goal setting and a few approaches to challenging those assumptions, finding solutions, and taking action, NOW!

  1. Sequencing Assumption: Have you assumed certain tasks or accomplishments have to be serial, i.e. one after the other, without having solid evidence for that assumption?
    1. Solutions
      1. Scenario Planning/Thought Experiment: ask yourself, if these were done in parallel, what would happen? What is critical to be done in serial and what sub-elements of this task or project could be done in parallel?
      2. Seeking evidence: ask others who've already done it or research online for blogs or articles that might give you some insight
  2. Staggering Assumption:  you've staggered tasks or goals with something else in mind like not wanting to overload you or other people involved or perhaps there is some other underlying reason.
    1. Solution:
      1. Similar to the Sequencing assumption, challenge the staggering or run scenarios on "what kind of help could a get and exchange money to accelerate this part of the plan?"
      2. Ask yourself, what if I doubled the resources involved in this project, would that change how I've laid out my plan?
  3. Over Estimating What's Involved: we tend to make goals, tasks, projects much more complicated than they need be.  This is often due to inexperience, fear, or even perhaps an overconfidence in our abilities so in some way (subconsciously perhaps) we end up making those goals or projects contain much more than is necessary to really accomplish the core of what we're going for.
    1. Solutions:
      1. Ask yourself "what if this were easy?" and really think about what are the main elements required for success.  Strip away everything else and go for it.
      2. Do an 80/20 analysis of the sub-tasks or elements involved in what you're trying to accomplish.  Look at those elements that make up 20% of the total and find those that you think will really deliver 80% of the results.  Focus on those, detail them out, and challenge everything else.  Can that other 80% be delegated, automated, or removed altogether?  Do the opposite thought process as well, meaning look at the 20% of tasks you think will result in 80% of wasted effort or low return to really accomplish your goal.  Repeat this a few times and you might find simplicity in what you originally made complex.
  4. Over/Under Estimating Cause-Effect Relationships: you have ideas about how to get from point A to point Z and assumptions about the "ingredients" or elements to get there.  Some of these lower level assumptions should be challenged.  Maybe there isn't a clear relationship at all between these elements when you address them closely.
    1. Solution
      1. Identify your assumed interdependencies that you're uncertain about.
      2. Break them down and build "test scenarios" so you can get more information about these situations.  
      3. After testing and verifying, revisit your goals/plans knowing the new information
  5. Risk, Fear, or Uncertainty Assumptions: you've placed a goal or target somewhere in the long term future for some reason or another and often because of the level of uncertainty, fear, or risk involved.
    1. Solution: 
      1. dig deep and find why you placed it out there. Alternatively run the thought experiment of "what would it look like if I did this tomorrow, next month, in six months, etc.?"  "What's the worst that could happen and ask "is this what I so feared?" and find "what's on the other side of that fear?" probably not much substance. 
      2. Accelerate these goals into tomorrow, and ask yourself as Tony Robbin's champions, what if I took MASSIVE ACTION on this, now?  After all that thinking, take the action!  Another reason to accelerate those elements that have high risk or uncertainty is that they will likely have the most unknowns involved, both from an effort level and a time required to accomplish them.  Give yourself a leg up from the start and do these as EARLY AS POSSIBLE to overcome them and make sure that they don't have an oversized effect on achieving your goals or project than if you had left them for a later time in your project.
  6. Poor duration estimating: we assume based on some past experience, conjecture, or anecdotal evidence how difficult something will be or how long it will take.  We often overestimate how long things CAN take and instead add a little extra effort/time on what we already know (called Parkinson's Law) for what it might take you!
    1. Solution:
      1. Attack this assumption hard and ask yourself "what would this look like if it were easy?" and ask how that would be accomplished if you had limitless resources.  Sometimes this will help you unlike your creative thinking and find new paths to accomplishing things.
      2. Ask someone else you trust and explain to that what you're trying to get done.  Don't ask for elaboration or opinions, but rather how hard/long they think it would take and why.  You might get insight there.
  7. Trying to Forecast the Future: you believe you know how a series of events will play out or how some not distant future event (outside of your direct control) will be and so you make assumptions about how it will matter to you, your goals or your project.  Humans are notoriously poor at foretelling the future and believing we have the crystal ball of experience, knowledge, arrogance, or some other mystical power.  There are, however, some simple and sophisticated ways to really think about future events and how they may or may not impact you.
    1. Solutions:
      1. Challenge your optimism/pessimism and ask yourself if you have rose/black colored glasses on.
      2. Read the book "SuperForecasting".  In it you'll find the psychology of forecasting the future, fallacies associated with it, large scale studies on how to do it well and on those people who have "SuperForecasting" talent and finding ways you too can do this better yourself.

After running your projects and goals through the filter of breaking up your assumptions, you might find they are achievable much more easily or sooner than you originally had thought.  Perhaps you have new clarity and detail now that you've thought about the big picture in from several different perspectives.

What other ways have you identified assumptions in your goals or projects and how did you address them to create much more success?  Please share in the comments below!