Assumptions Again

Using foresight in practice needs to integrate clear understanding of how we *think* about futures as well as how to *do* futures.

Assumptions Again

I have written about assumptions before: here and here. How we find and use our assumptions about future is becoming a major focus of my work at the moment.

I recently asked folks on Twitter and LinkedIn when was the last time they challenged their assumptions. Simple question I thought. I explained I was developing a framework centered on assumptions. No one answered that question - see my last paragraph in this post for why this probably happened.

I also asked if thinking about how we think about futures was of interest and some folks sort of answered that with comments about assumptions generally or how they design their processes.

No one really answered the first question - which I asked because it's at the core of our conversations about futures.

This preference for the second question might be nothing (or my unclear question), but perhaps it reflects a tendency to focus on the doing of foresight - the process, the actions, the outcomes. That's essential of course and it's how foresight gets used, and articulated and helps us to develop our futures literacy.

But at the core of the doing of foresight is the thinking of foresight. Our assumptions inform our thinking and our actions. Taken-for-granted thinking most likely will result in taken-for-granted doing and actions. It's safe though.

Of course, people in the foresight/futures field know this and most intuitively do it every day and in every process they do. But how they do it is not often articulated - that is, we don't often have explicit conversations with ourselves about our assumptions about futures.

Finding our assumptions

I did a presentation some years ago where I talked about challenging assumptions. Someone emailed me afterwards and said "how do you challenge your assumptions?" He is the only person to ask in my 20+ years of using foresight.

Fundamentally, challenging our assumptions is to begin asking why?

  • Why do I think that?
  • Where did this belief come from?
  • Is it still valid?
  • Are there alternative perspectives on this issue/topic/thing that are helpful right now?
  • Do I need to let go of that thinking?

If you hear yourself thinking 'that's rubbish' or 'that will never happen' or 'I don't believe that' or even 'that's stupid', you need to stop yourself and ask these sorts of questions. You have hit an assumption wall and you need to step back and decide if you are going to turn away from it and find another way to your destination or whether you want to break the wall down and go through it to a new space where you can find new ideas and new thinking.

Here's another example of the critical thinking needed to challenge assumptions.

Does this really matter?

Our assumptions are strong though, powerful when it we encounter new ideas, and our brains don't really help. They like the familiar, the known, they look for and reinforce patterns. But we can re-train our brains. We learn something new like a new language and it becomes part of how we think. If we force our minds to open up open to new information, new perspectives about futures, our thinking will change. I know this because it happened to me, and I can remember very clearly the day I realised how I thought about the world was different.

This doesn't mean you can't hang on to some assumptions - there will always be some new thing, some ways of operating, some ways of living and the like that we don't want to accept - that's okay, as long as we have first asked why we don't want to accept this assumption. And, we recognise this assumption might lose validity over time. The benefit here is that we are now alert to our assumptions and we can question them if we need to.

This way of thinking matters because if we don't challenge our assumptions about futures, we will get used futures, ones that worked in the past, that we assume work in the present, and that we assume will continue to work into our futures. And our thinking remains trapped in the past and present.

Warning though: your brain might hurt when you find the new in the present and start to challenge assumptions. This is good.

Update: I asked again about answering this question, and the replies are coming it. The problem was my question of course. I hit an assumption wall and didn't see it.