The Benefit of Being Curious without Assumptions


Remember the scientific method? It goes something like:

  1. Propose a hypothesis that explains a phenomena;
  2. Design a repeatable experiment to test the hypothesis;
  3. Determine if the results confirm the hypothesis; and
  4. Share the results.

Unfortunately, there is a little problem with the method... our assumptions.

Pattern Recognition and Assumptions

Human beings are designed to recognize patterns. We use pattern recognition to get us through the day–we see a red light and we stop, we see sales increase and we schedule more production, we hear a knock at the door and we answer it. Our pattern recognition is what allows us to form a testable hypothesis in the first place.

For our pattern recognition to work well, we need to make assumptions–lots of them.

We start with a plan based on some beliefs and assumptions about how to go ahead and then we make a very human mistake. Rather than design a repeatable experiment (which we don't have the time to do), we look for evidence to confirm our approach. We use our pattern recognition skills to selectively focus on information that supports our approach and discounts evidence that discredits it.

Research suggests that the stronger our belief, the more likely we are to have a bias towards confirming evidence.

Curiosity without Assumptions

The stronger our beliefs about something, the more we need to build experiments that allows us to curiously explore other possibilities without bias. We need to have the courage to suspend our assumptions.

One powerful way to de-bias yourself is to list your  strong assumptions and beliefs about an issue or opportunity on a sheet of paper and then ask yourself, "What if this belief isn't true?" You can also share your list with others and ask them if they see other beliefs you may have that may get in the way of seeing the truth.

With your assumptions and beliefs in hand, you will be in a better place to effectively check the evidence you see and use it to achieve your goals.

Brett PinegarFeatured