Financial Planning | Leadership / Management

Don’t assume anything. Prove it.

Mcgrath Blaming others is easy when times are tough, isn't it?

It's the economy, or the fat cats on Wall Street, or those crooked politicians, or your cheapskate clients. Just about anybody but yourself, right?

Think again.

"Ninety percent of our barriers to growth are self-inflicted," Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath told the crowd at the 2010 DigitalNow conference in Orlando. "The good news is, they can be self-removed."

One of the biggest problems, said McGrath, is our love affair with assumptions. We assume we know what our members, our clients, our employees want, but do we really?

Probably not.

"Big business flops come from smart organizations that didn't have the data and were trying to prove themselves right," McGrath says.

The problem is two-fold:

  • Assumptions have a way of quickly becoming facts in our minds, and "the most dangerous thing we can do in turbulent times is be married to the idea that we're right," McGrath said.
  • The assumptions underlying a typical corporate plan are usually forgotten after six weeks. We actually forget why we're doing what we're doing. Documenting those assumptions and, more importantly, testing them are crucial to our ability to survive turbulent times, she said.

There are plenty of other barriers standing in our way, McGrath said, including internal politics, external risk, a shortage of resources and a reluctance to change.

Assumptions, though, may be the most toxic. You remember that old joke about what happens when we assume, right? We make an "ass" out of "u" and "me."

The key to success in turbulent times, McGrath said, is to start with a clear vision of what success means to you. Define it first, then work to make that vision a reality.

"Growing in turbulent times is possible," McGrath said, "but not with the same practices that made sense when things were more predictable."

McGrath offered plenty of other advice, including a slidedeck full of helpful worksheets and an assessment of how your organization currently operates. Download them here.

In the meantime, let us know what you are doing to stay strong during these tough times, then check out these related resources:


Bill Sheridan