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mattbrowne's avatar

How often do you challenge your assumptions and can you share an example?

Asked by mattbrowne (31600points) May 17th, 2009

Here’s my example: When I was a student I assumed that sending Germany’s oversupply of food into poor third world countries would be an excellent approach. Later I realized that this only makes sense in extreme situations such as natural disasters. Otherwise there’s great risk of destroying the local economies.

Here’s an interesting historical example:

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Editor, Prentice Hall Business Books, 1957

What about your assumptions? Do you challenge them from time to time? If yes, how often does this occur?

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12 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

My last one occurred a little more than a year ago. My daughter, then traveling, asked me if I would take her cat. I said, “Only as a last resort. Please try everyone else you know first.”

Two weeks later Milo arrived; it was not love at first sight, but now, ah. How do I love him? Let me count the ways.

Before that was in 1998 when my daughter said, “Mom, get a computer. You’d love it.”

I said “No” and two weeks later UPS delivered several huge boxes – the old eMac blueberry and trimmings. And, baby, look at me now.

lillycoyote's avatar

I couldn’t give you a number or an example but I always at least try to be open to the possibility that I could be wrong about things. I read a lot and am always learning things that change my mind about things in large and small ways. It is intellectually dishonest otherwise. I don’t want my mind to become petrified, like a fossil, preserved forever at one stage of it’s development. That being said. I try but don’t always succeed. There are certain things I feel very strongly about and have very strong opinions on but I like to believe those opinions are based on a thoughtful and rational analysis of the circumstance. When presented with facts and information that contradict my opinions and beliefs then it is time to consider revising them.

nikipedia's avatar

Probably a few weeks ago, when I had the conversation that led to this question. I examined my assumptions pretty thoroughly, but I still think they were correct to begin with.

bob's avatar

I like this question and line of thought. I want to make a distinction between thinking one thing and then finding out years later that you were wrong or it was more complicated than that and challenging one’s assumptions in the moment.

I think of challenging my own assumptions as a meta-cognitive act in the moment. As if we can think about what our assumptions are at the time that we’re trying to figure something out, rather than in retrospect.

The editor at Prentice Hall should have challenged his own assumptions, but he didn’t. (Notice I’m assuming the editor’s a man. That’s probably dumb.) But it’s hard to challenge your own assumptions. Usually, I have my assumptions challenged by other people; I don’t challenge them myself. That’s why they’re my assumptions. :)

So it seems important for me to surround myself with people who will help me challenge my own assumptions from time to time. When was the last time I challenged my own assumptions? Hmm. For various reasons, I thought a colleague was stupid and that I didn’t have anything to learn from her. Then last week we had a good conversation, and now I realize that she knows a lot about writing that I could stand to learn. That’s a small example, but I guess the lesson for me (which I learn over and over) is to be more open to the idea that people I meet are smart and interesting and have something to teach me.

mattbrowne's avatar

In my experience it takes quite an effort to challenge assumptions, let alone to admit being wrong. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

qashqai's avatar

I challenge my assumption every day/every time I feel is adequate.

During my studies at Stern, NYU they made me believe Enron was the ideal model for perfect company/highest sustainable growth.

I did. (But it was the professor’s fault)

Jack_Haas's avatar

Constantly. Even if I feel strongly about a particular topic I try to keep an open mind.

wundayatta's avatar

Challenge? That sounds so active. I don’t think I challenge my assumptions. In fact, I don’t think I could tell you what they are! I just try to be skeptical and be as unbiased as I can be.

Does anyone else have an idea of what my assumptions are, based on what you’ve seen me write?

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – In think one of your assumptions is that there’s a lot to be learned when asking people about their experiences. I would agree with this assumption. I wouldn’t challenge it.

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne Is that an assumption, or is it knowledge gained through experience and experimentation?

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – It’s an assumption about a supposed assumption ;-) and I used observation rather than experimentation.

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