Assumptions are your Windows on the World. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.


CHALLENGE ALL ASSUMPTIONS. Thomas Edison felt his lack of formal education was, in fact, “his blessing.”  This enabled him to approach his work of invention with far fewer assumptions than his more educated competitors, which included many theoretical scientists, renowned Ph.D.s, and engineers. He approached any idea or experience with wild enthusiasm and would try anything out of the ordinary, including even making phonograph needles out of compressed rainforest nuts and clamping his teeth onto a phonograph horn to use as a hearing aid, feeling the sound vibrate through his jaw. This wild enthusiasm inspired him to consistently challenge assumptions.

He felt that in some ways too much education corrupted people by prompting them to make so many assumptions that they were unable to see many of nature’s great possibilities. When Edison created a “system” of practical lighting, he conceived of wiring his circuits in parallel and of using high-resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by scientific experts, in fact, were not considered at all because they were assumed to be totally incompatible until Edison put them together.

Before Edison hired a research assistant, he would invite the candidate over for a bowl of soup. If the person seasoned the soup before tasting it, Edison would not hire the candidate. He did not want people who had so many built-in assumptions into their everyday life, that they would even assume the soup is not properly seasoned. He wanted people who consistently challenged assumptions and tried different things.

An easy way to challenge assumptions is to simply reverse them and try to make the reversal work. The guidelines are:

  • List your assumptions about a subject.
  • Challenge your fundamental assumptions by reversing them. Write down the opposite of each assumption.
  • Ask yourself  how to accomplish each reversal.  List as many useful viewpoints as you can.

Suppose, for example, you want to start a novel restaurant.

  1. You would begin by listing the assumptions you make about restaurants. One assumption might be: All restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.
  2. Next, you would reverse this to: I will start a restaurant that does not have a menu of any kind.
  3. Now, look for ways to make the “reversal” work and list every idea you can. “How can I operate a viable restaurant that does not have a menu?”
  4. One idea would be to have the chef come to the table and display what the chef bought that day at the meat market, fish market and vegetable market. The customer checks off the ingredients he or she likes and the chef prepares a special dish based on the “selected” ingredients. The chef also names the dish after the customer and prints out the recipe for the customer to take home. You might call the restaurant “The Creative Chef.”

Suppose your town has a problem with drivers who park their cars on main streets for long periods of time.

  • Your assumption is drivers control parking time of their autos.
  • Reverse this to the car controls the parking time.
  • How? Allow parking anywhere on Main streets as long as you leave the lights on.

Tired of being put on hold when telephoning someone? I’ve consulted with a small company that has invented an ingenuous device that puts the person who is holding you on hold.

  • Assumption: the person who puts you on hold controls the call.
  • Reverse this to you control the call.
  • How? This company has invented a small device called a “Hold Holder.” When someone puts you on hold you activate the Hold Holder and it will repeat a message “You have been placed on hold. Please press five and I will pick up the phone. When the person who put you on hold presses five, your phone rings and you pick up your phone.

Suppose you assume you are not creative.

  • Reverse this to you are creative.
  • How? Get a copy of Thinkertoys : A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques and learn the techniques that creative geniuses have used to get their ideas throughout history.


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