How many assumptions do you think you make in an average day? One, twenty, a hundred? How many do you think are useful? How many do you think might have prevented you from achieving better things?
Of course, assumptions are quite natural and in many cases make our working lives easier and safer. It is safe to assume that swimming with sharks is highly risky, and doing business with them could prove equally unprofitable.
To assume that a doorway is for walking through is quite benign as long as you haven't assumed what's behind it and fallen foul of a lion's den.
Why do we make assumptions? It is equal parts of observation and fear. We see what other people do and how they do it and we copy them. Now the benefit of copying is that you eliminate personal risk.
Being the first to try something new is always intimidating, especially in public view. No one likes to be laughed at and by being first and getting it wrong, you place your self-image on the line.
However there is never one right way of doing things, and in any case who stipulates what is right? It can be you just as easily as someone else. It all depends on the application of the action. An umbrella is to keep the rain off, until you think of another way to use it more profitably and then that view becomes its accepted use
I remember quite clearly during my first week of college sitting next to a sour faced guy who I was quite convinced hated me. Well, no problem pal, I don't like you much either then! A whole semester went by with us studiously avoiding each other. One day we happened to be on a bus together and wouldn't you know it the only seat free was next to my sour faced pal.
We began to talk, hesitantly at first, but slowly began to realise how much we had in common. After 30 minutes or so he turned and said to me, "you know, I was sure you hated me for some reason." To say I felt foolish is an understatement. After that bus ride we became the best of friends and I value his friendship still. What might have been the cost of one wrong assumption?
Why did I make this assumption? I was on edge and chose to interpret his stern expression for dislike. I was looking outside-to-in. I was in how does the world affect me mode? If I had just thought inside-to-out I might have thought what my face was saying to him, and when you can do that you have greater control on your environment and your assumptions.
Ok, but we learn through observation and if someone scowls at you, you might quite rightly expect him or her to have some antagonism towards you. What happens if you assume that they are shy or just uncomfortable and you are wrong? They really do hate you!
It is a gamble, of course. The question is would you trade the possibility of one life-long friend against an unpleasant remark ending in off. I'll take the possibility of that new friend each time.
Now what would happen if you applied that ideal to your working life? What happened if you catalogued every assumption you make and challenged it with "what if"? Most of us bemoan the lack of opportunities to get ahead without realising the building blocks are already lying about. You just need to rearrange them in the right way.
Challenge your assumptions each day about people, about attitudes, about how things work and a world of opportunities will present themselves. Once you have opportunities you have choices and may I just this once, assume that you will take advantage of them?