When working in a team on a design or a vision, it’s pretty likely that lots and lots of assumptions will be made. They can be anthropological - “people will act as ambassadors”, “our users will share this” or “people will want to submit their stories, ideas, photos or limericks to our hub”. They can be economic – “This won’t cost much” or mechanical – “Yeah, of course our CMS can do that”.
Assumptions are seductive because they propel the project forward, they allow us to just bat away risk and move forward, like a juggernaut, unstoppable. They are exhilarating because it feels like you’re calling the shots, living on the edge or flying by the seat of your pants.
Often, if you’ve made an assumption about something, and you haven’t spotted that it’s an assumption, it has a butterfly effect. Six months later you realise that because of this assumption the project you’re working on is moribund and nobody is prepared to throw out all the work and go back to the drawing board. So it goes.
The most dangerous thing about an assumption is when one person releases it into the air, another person inhales it deep into their thinking, agrees with it and takes it onboard as fact. Then they carry it around with no symptoms to speak of. And before you know it, it’s endemic. Everyone believes it to be true because nobody knows where it came from and everyone shares it. And then it’s terminal.
It usually takes someone to question or challenge an assumption to defuse the coaction effect. It’s only when an assumption is called out and challenged that it can be addressed and contained, quarantined and eradicated.