Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Challenging Assumptions - Digging Deeper

Most people reading this will know of the freezing weather that gripped the UK over the Christmas and New Year periods together with the associated problems. Although there was some panic buying of food in the shops, by and large we survived unscathed. Did this mean that when the road conditions were appalling, my local supermarket was making superhuman efforts to deliver my Cornflakes?

Towards the end of the freeze I went to a local supermarket and was wandering up and down the aisles when I overheard a conversation between two of the department managers. The first was obviously toeing the company line and said something like "the shelves have been full, the supply chain has been doing a great job". Nice, I thought, he recognises the contribution of drivers and warehouse staff in difficult circumstances. The second manager said "there were less people going to the supermarket because of the bad weather".

It did not matter to me, since I was getting what I wanted, but it highlights a valid point. Accepting observations about full shelves without looking at all the facts meant that I was making a number of assumptions. If I was the supermarket manager I could be patting myself on the back believing that the arrangements I had put in place worked well. Next time there was a big freeze I could do exactly the same. But what if the local council gets better at clearing roads, or everybody buys four wheel drive cars? More people will arrive at the supermarkets and the food may disappear.

Do you think that this is what happened to many of our businesses between 18 months and two years ago? There is no need to become highly cynical, but learning to question the status quo and challenge assumptions is an essential component of an innovation system.

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