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Friday, November 16, 2012

Avoiding Assumptions and Why Critical Thinking is Necessary

Avoiding Assumptions

To assume is to take something for granted, to expect that things will be a certain way because they have been that way in the past or because you want them to be that way. It’s natural to make assumptions. Everyone makes them continually. You assume, for example, that your professor will be in class when class is scheduled, that the cafeteria will not serve lunch two hours early, that your car is safe from vandalism in the college parking lot, that the bank that has always cashed your checks will continue to do so, and that the elevator is really going up when the indicator says it is. Making such assumptions is reasonable, even if on occasion they prove to be incorrect.
Nevertheless, it is important to be careful about what you assume. And when you are evaluating and refining your ideas, you should make a special effort to identify assumptions you may not have detected previously. The reason is not only that unexpected outcomes can cause you embarrassment but also, and more important, that what you take for granted you will not examine critically. Assumptions obstruct the evaluation process.
It would be impossible to list all the assumptions it is possible to make. However, the following assumptions occur often enough, and interfere with critical thinking seriously enough, to warrant special mention.
  1. The assumption that others familiar with the problem or issue will share your enthusiasm for your ideas.Although this might seem to be a reasonable expectation, it seldom is. The more familiar people are with a problem or issue, the more likely they are to have their own ideas.
  2. The assumption that small imperfections in your idea will not affect people’s acceptance of it.When other people’s ideas differ from yours, they are likely to magnify flaws in your ideas without even realizing it because, subconsciously, they are looking for an excuse to reject your ideas. Small imperfections may provide that excuse.
  3. The assumption that if your idea is clear to you, it will be clear to others.If you’ve ever sat in a classroom and heard a teacher offer an explanation that didn’t make the slightest sense to you, you should appreciate the confusion this assumption can cause. Your understanding of what you are expressing does not constitute clarity. If you want the solution and its presentation to be clear, you must construct it to be so and not just assume that it is.
  4. The assumption that the people who stand to benefit most from your idea will accept it automatically without any persuasion on your part.This assumption has caused creative people incalculable grief. For example, when Elias Howe invented the sewing machine, he knew it would be a boon to the garment industry by revolutionizing garment construction and making the clothing business much more profitable. He may very well have assumed that the mere unveiling of his invention would be sufficient to have the leaders of that industry praise it and him. But reality didn’t match that assumption. Howe couldn’t get a single American firm interested enough to buy the machine. He was forced to go to England to find a favorable reception. To spare yourself disappointment, never assume that the value of your ideas will be universally recognized. Expect to have to persuade other people.

Why Criticism is Necessary

The role of criticism in problem solving is important for two reasons. First, no solution is ever perfect. However creative it may be, there is always room for improvement. Even the best ideas seldom occur in refined form. Like fine gems, they must be cleaned and polished before their potential worth is realized. Second, in many cases solutions cannot just be put into effect; they must first be approved by others. Ideas for the improvement of the office or factory, for example, may require the approval of an employer or supervisor. Ideas about overcoming difficulties in family relationships may depend on the cooperation of other family members. And creative solutions to social problems often require the support of government leaders or the endorsement of the voters. In such cases, the best idea in the world is of little value until others are persuaded of its worth.
Criticism is equally important in resolving issues. A viewpoint may seem eminently reasonable, the ideal ground for compromise between opposing views, yet contain subtle flaws. Sometimes these become evident only when the idea is translated into a course of action.
In the early 1970s, for example, in response to the issue of fairness in divorce settlements, the idea of “no-fault” divorce became law in California, and in subsequent years, in most other states. It was considered at the time an ingenious way to permit a marriage to be dissolved easily and fairly, without squabbling and bitter accusations. Later, many critics identified an effect of no-fault divorce that no one anticipated when it was instituted: the impoverishment of divorced women and their children.1
Although there can never be a guarantee that even the most thorough criticism will reveal every flaw in an idea, your responses to issues are more likely to be reasonable if you subject your ideas to rigorous evaluation before reaching a judgment. Critical thinking reduces your chance of error.


The Art of Thinking. A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought, Ninth Edition

Chapter 10: The Role of Criticism
ISBN: 9780205668335 Author: Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
copyright © 2009 Pearson Education


Jessica Johnson COM 101 4041 said...

Assumptions are difficult to correct sometimes because they are so engrained in us.

Jana said...

Regarding the list of assumptions that occur often, I can relate to #3, “The assumption that if your idea is clear to you, it will be clear to others.” Assuming that all people possess certain knowledge, such as basic computer skills, is stereotyping. In our workplace, we often test a procedural document on several people who are unfamiliar with the task before it is published. A tested product is one that has been “constructed” to be clear, and not assumed to be.
Jana Henning
Summer, 2012