4. Frame assumptions as hypotheses to be tested
“Doubt is not a very pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
– Voltaire, letter to Frederick II of Prussia, 6th April 1767
Why it matters
Most people are overconfident about their estimates. At the same time uncertainty is real because the future is shaped by events that have not yet been fully determined.
Not all events are totally uncertain. However, one of the best mitigation strategies for the one that is is to maximize the relative rate of learning. This is enabled by framing assumptions as hypotheses to be tested.
How it works
Goals and decisions on a tactical and strategic level are often presented to us as “facts”. This can for example mean spending years of product development on products that customers do not want. The hidden behavior side effect of presenting goals as “facts” is that over time, we train people to conform to this as a fact, instead of alerting us when this might be a faulty assumption. This slows down the rate of learning.
● When crafting goals, write them as hypotheses, share the data that backs this up, and the observations that would confirm or falsify it.
● When sharing decisions, share the decision options and including the level of confidence you have for each of them being right.
● As a co-worker, when being presented with a decision as a ‘fact’, ask “how sure are you?”
From this point, move to action and test the assumptions empirically. Keep a lookout for counter-evidence that might prove this to be wrong. Use this as input to pivot or persevere.
Each piece of information you get may contain a hidden opportunity, you could be the first to see them!