Challenging assumptions

In this article, Douglas encourages us to find hidden assumptions lying beneath the surface and to challenge them before making judgements that lead to decision making.


One fundamental skill we all need in all aspects of our lives, is judgement.

We exercise it often and often very quickly, either by following well trodden paths that have worked for us in the past or by ‘first impressions’ (particularly in judging people) but these impressions must be unfounded on data since there is none, just a reaction to a perception of the other party.

To some extent judgement is a process of decision making but sometimes with less than full measurement processes in place to inform the decision.

We need to ask new questions rather than react to the answers to old questions and therefore judgment is also part of the process of having an innovative or enquiring mind.

We do not need people who are happier sticking to the rules. Rather we need people to ask if the rules still make sense in changing circumstances and if there are better ways to deliver what is intended.

In all of this the moves to ‘Big Data’ are important since this allows the collection of more data about more things but it is not a solution in itself. Someone still has to ask the fundamental questions to process into information and use this to inform decisions. That is, until developments in artificial intelligence replace the human decision makers!

The real need is to keep imagining alternatives and asking lots of challenging questions.

The logic of crowds is that the more people who are actively involved, the more likely it is that good information emerges. However roles and responsibilities still affect who is empowered and trusted with making the decision.

This why the business procurement decision should never be a single person’s choice.

The concept of the buying centre is key in that all interested parties are supposed to be involved at all stages of the contract lifecycle up to contract decision and award and, for some at least, this continues into the contract management phase and onwards.

Challenging assumptions is the most profitable thing that a team member can do since it is the assumptions that cause us to continue on the well trodden path when we should be breaking new trails and looking for new opportunities.

By asking about assumptions we are looking below the surface to understand what might meet the objectives in different ways.

It also means that our approach is not a personal challenge against a decision maker, rather it is a search for a more fundamental understanding from which the decision maker can learn as well.

Such a team member becomes valuable to an enlightened decision maker.

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This article is from the free online course:

Contract Management: Building Relationships in Business

University of Southampton