Monday, September 25, 2006

Assumptions are hiding places for the truth.

This morning I walked in a conference room a bit early; while I was waiting for my collegue to join, I picked up a book that was sitting on the small coffee table at the center of the room. That book has been there for many months. It showed up in the conference room in the same period when the company was organizing Japanese classes for the employees. The title contains the word "Japanese", it has has colors similar to a book called "Japanese for Busy People" that I saw circulating around during the Japanese classes period.

I spent many hours in that conference room, stared at that book many times, and every single time I thought "I wonder who lost this Japanese language book". Many times I meant to look at it, but never did.

When I picked it up today I didn't realize that it was NOT a language book, at all! I even looked at a bunch of pages before truly stop and read the cover page, where the title proudly announced that my big assumption was wrong. The title on the cover is "The Big Bento box of Useless Japanese Inventions". The book is sort of a collection of strange and useless Japanese inventions.

Here is what happend: I saw "Japanese" on the cover, it showed up in a period where Japanese language classes where in mind, it has similar colors to a Japanese language text book... and all this information created the notion in my mind that it was Japanese language text book. I assumed it. For months! I started at the cover, without *really* seeing what it said. I was looking at the facts, without truly seeing the *facts*.

This was a small demonstration, for me, of how the reality that we live in is what we decide to see, and not what it is. It is a small demonstration on how the truth sometimes can be right there screaming at us, and we simply don't see it.

Our marvelous brain associates images and concepts with our knowledge, and makes up the rest of the reality working with associations and pattern matching. It makes up all that reality that we don’t stop and truly observe. This allows us to move faster, and it works most of the time. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and it pushes us into making unverified assumptions. In my engineering work I found that 99% of the errors I make are lurking into these unverified assumptions.

So, here is a piece of advice. Whenever you are hitting a wall and you can’t find where “the problem is”, look at all the assumptions you made and verify that they are correct. Remember to *TRULY* look at the assumptions. Don’t just skip over them. Anytime you skip over an assumption you could be skipping over the issue that is creating the problem that you are trying to solve. The truth is usually hiding in one of the assumptions you made.

I told this story to a colleague, and he mentioned a joke that has a lot of truth in it; I find it useful to help reminding me to never assume: "ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME".

1 comment:

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