It was 7 pm at night on a chilly spring evening; I had just arrived at the JW Marriot Conference room to set up for a work session the next morning. The room was pitch black and so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. It was quite eerie, but I bolstered up my courage, turned my phone’s flashlight on, and started looking for the light switch. After 20 minutes of navigating through the dark abyss of a conference room, I still could not find the light switch. I could start to hear a little voice in my head saying, “Laura, are you smarter than this room? Are you smarter than this light switch?”

However, I did notice a hidden cabinet door on the wall, which upon opening, showed an electronic screen. Not thinking that it had anything to do with the light switch or me, I closed the cabinet door and kept on looking. Another ten minutes passed by, frustrated and unable to find the light switch still, I decided to open up the wall cabinet again and actually read what was on the screen. Sure enough, the first line said “Chandelier”, and the second “Back Lights!” I slid the touchscreen dial up and the lights came on.

Wow, it was THAT simple- I thought to myself in relief and with a bit of annoyance. At that moment I realized that my hidden assumption about myself, that I am not good with mechanical or electrical things had shaped my thinking and in-action. “I’m not a mechanical person, so therefore I probably won’t understand what was on that screen.” This was my blind spot and it cost 30 minutes of my time.  It was a powerful moment. Sure, the assumption I had was substantiated with some facts; for example, I tried fixing a stapler recently and ended up with a stapled hand. However, that past event and the many others should in no way dictate how I act in the present and the future. Hidden assumptions, when unexamined, exert the greatest influence on the results we are able to generate.

What are some of the hidden assumptions you have about yourself? What about another colleague, or the company? I offer three simple steps to begin this inquiry.

  1. The first step is to acknowledge that hidden assumptions do exist. Many tend to bypass this, but it is actually the most important in the whole process. Take some time to examine what possible assumptions you have about yourself, your team, and your organization.
  2. Then start asking questions and prescribe less. Ask questions that you don’t have an answer to. As a senior leader, it may feel unnatural at first to ask these types of questions, as you tend to think that people rely on you for answers. This may be a hidden assumption in and of itself to be challenged.
  3. As you collect answers, keep an open mind. List them out with on a piece of paper and don’t strike any answer down. Try out the possibility that the outlined assumptions actually don’t define you, your team, or the organization – you may be amazed at the new actions you see to take.

Michelangelo created his masterpiece David by removing all the pieces that were not David. Can you generate extraordinary results for your organization by taking apart the hidden assumptions that do not serve the group of people you work with, the project, and the end result?

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