Martine Barrie17 December 2019

Assume nothing: How To Boost Your Innovation Success

What do you assume about this article before you have even read it? That it is going to be full of useful concepts? That it will be amusing? Or a waste of time?

Our assumptions drive our world. They set our expectations about how we imagine the world will behave – from what is possible in our customer’s world, to how we imagine a proposal will fare in a meeting or even the outcome of our Tinder date this evening!

Thinking uses brain energy and so, according to research by David McCormick from the Yale School of Medicine, our brains code our thoughts to save energy. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t challenge those assumptions more consciously, time and time again.
Be surprised by your customer’s needs. 

When it comes to innovation, when people leap straight to ideas, it means they are working to their own set of assumptions about the customer’s needs. According to Inventium’s Best Practice Innovation Process, ideation is the fourth stage (check out our video). Before generating ideas we put the customer at the heart of the innovation process to discover their frustrations. A story in this HBR article by Clayton Christensen tells of a property developer who was selling apartments to downsizers based on assumed desirable features. When sales were disappointing they spoke to some of the purchasers to identify what had clinched the deal. Surprisingly these satisfied buyers repeatedly talked about the dining table – how it fitted into their new homes or where it went instead. This changed everything when it became apparent that the dining table was symbolic of the heart of the family. The project consultant said, “I went in thinking we were in the business of new-home construction,” he recalls. “But I realised we were in the business of moving lives.” With this understanding of the Job To Be Done, their assumptions about what prospective buyers were seeking went out of the window.
Measure actual behaviour

When organisations leap from ideas to implementation based on market research or a business care there are assumptions involved. We know that intention scores of market research don’t equate to behaviour. In his book The Lean Start Up Eric Reis talks about taking leap-of-faith assumptions and rigorously testing them as hypotheses in a scientific feedback loop. At Inventium we have adapted this way of thinking and recommend transforming assumptions into hypotheses that can be tested for cause and effect and conducting experiments that measure actual customer behaviour.
Change the colour of your innovation day

On a more personal level, research on the Pygmailion effect shows how a manager’s assumptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Consider how that affects innovation, for better or worse. Whilst assumptions are one of the ways we navigate our day they can hold us back too. I love to stop, think and ponder my assumptions for the day ahead. And then think about how those assumptions are holding me back. How am I building a self-fulfilling prophecy into my day? By calling out those assumptions, and challenging them, in the same way, we do with our Assumption Crusher approach in Idea generation, I like to think I can change the outcome.
So when it comes to assumptions:

  • Be aware of your assumptions about other people – be it, customers or colleagues. This will help you be open to new possibilities on all fronts.
  • Evolve your assumptions into hypotheses so you can measure behaviour.
  • Be more conscious of the assumptions that drive you and your organisation and give yourself the opportunity to change the outcome.


So were your assumptions prior to reading this spot on?