Are Your Default Assumptions Keeping You From Making a Change?

UPDATED: September 12, 2013
PUBLISHED: September 12, 2013

We use assumptions every day to make decisions on how we spend our time, what someone else will do and to make faster decisions. Sometimes they can help us be more efficient when based on fact and analysis. But assumptions also stare us in the face when we have great new idea or want to make a change. These favorite assumptions can be a shortcut for deciding not to change or act on a new idea, or even try. It’s also very convenient when our assumptions line up very nicely with our fears. It reinforces staying right where we are today. Confront some commonly-held assumptions and decide if they’re affecting your decision to step out and try a new or better way.

Assumption No. 1: I don’t know enough. How could I start the new business? I don’t know enough about it. Or, I could never write a book—I wouldn’t know where to begin. That may be true today. But look at it as a signal you need to learn more, not that your goal is impossible. This assumption can be addressed by making the decision that you can and will learn everything possible about your topic. Think about how much information is at your fingertips. You can learn more by researching online, developing knowledgeable mentors and advisors, connecting with industry peers interested in the topic, attending speaker events and participating in webinars with direct access to experts. The possibilities are endless. The decision to take these first small steps can be the hardest. These actions are rarely the A items on your to-do list and don’t seem nearly as important as the fire drills that overtake your day. It takes commitment when no one is asking for it. Get started. When I started PeopleResults, I asked so many people for information and advice. I developed my go-to advisors. Some were paid and some were just friends and mentors. I knew I had so much to learn on business structure and financials, marketing, social media, growing clients, and many other topics. I learned a lot on my own and through observation, but I also found experts who helped me accelerate addressing my gaps.

Assumption No. 2: It’s not in my job description. On the surface, we may picture the disinterested person just doing the bare minimum at work. But think about this for a minute. Most of us pride ourselves on being focused and efficient, not taking on others’ issues and problems, which could make us less productive. This may be true for the normal day-to-day activities, but new ideas and changes don’t follow organization charts. Start with the opportunity and the need, not who “owns it” or how it should get done. If you have an idea or needed change, you can influence it even if it’s outside your official role or it seems like it’s on someone else’s list more than yours.

Assumption No. 3: This may not work. This could be true for almost anything we do in life. If you are prepared and learn everything you can, you will greatly influence your likelihood of success. Also, experiment with a deadline and see what works and what needs to be changed. I recently spoke with an owner of multiple stores. She had ideas for increasing their commitment to health and wellness. Rather than make a big change in every store, they experimented in a small way, to see what resonated with customers and their employees. They made adjustments based on experimentation. Their changes were very successful and they realized their goals. Or, if you are considering a change in career, try to get a side project in your new area to see if it feels right before you make a complete shift. A fear or assumption that it may not work isn’t a reason not to act.

Assumption No. 4: Someone else will do it. This assumption is a classic for deciding you don’t have to do anything because someone else will. Someone else will create a group to raise funds for the nearby disaster. Someone else will come up with an idea that improves the product. Someone else will change how we sell to our customers. But what if they don’t? And what if you had answers or ideas that no one else had? If you assume that “someone else” will do it, then ask yourself what is keeping you from being that someone.   Watch out for the assumptions that creep into your head and give you a reason not to act. After all, you may be the one who can make all the difference.

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at