The Effective Executive – Executive Assumptions


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This is the 24th episode of the Effective Executive podcast. In this episode, Tripp Babbitt discusses executive assumptions, why your brain defends them, and how to challenge them. Download our Effective Executive Starter Kit.

Show Notes

The Effective Executive – Episode 24: Executive “Assumptions”

Confirmation Bias

Developing New Thinking Through New History



[00:00:00] This is the twenty-fourth episode of the effective executive podcast, and I didn’t mean for the last two episodes of the podcast to really tie in together, but these are the twenty second, twenty third and twenty fourth will just by virtue of the way that my brain started putting these things together and how my executive education program is laid out. But this week I want to talk about assumptions. And first of all, I find the word assumptions very. Offensive maybe is a good word when somebody says, oh, those are your assumptions, it just doesn’t sound very good. But the truth is that your brain is grounded in a history of assumptions. The information it’s gathered over the years, it’s arranged to bring meaning to our brain and builds our perceptions of things. And so this is what creates our assumptions, is basically our history of whatever experiences that we’ve had in our life. And everybody’s had something different. So we’re all going to have different assumptions. But we are grounded in these assumptions. And because I don’t like the word so much, I actually call them theories@work that way. We’re we’re not saying, oh, you have some very bad assumptions or you have some good assumptions. I could be whatever, but it seems there always is a negative connotation associated with it. So I used like to use the word theories at work. But our interest is created, going back to the last episode when I was talking about how our ventral striatum in our brain wants us to discover and explore and do those types of things.


[00:02:11] And so it’s it’s our interest is created not by knowing, but by not knowing. And that opens up a whole new world to us as far as being able to think about what the possibilities are. And one of the things I tell most executives is there’s always a better way. There’s a better way of doing a process. There’s a better way of doing organizing your system. There’s a better way of doing decision making. All those types of things can be done better, including coming up with new products and services that are better than the ones that you have. And this can potentially lead to disruption. So regardless, it’s it’s that our interest is created by not by not by knowing, but by not knowing. And so as part of my education program, you look through a thinking lens and these are these theories at work. It’s to identify what your assumptions or your theories@work are in your organization. How do you think about things? And when I’m working individually with executives, you’ll find a whole series of sets of assumptions that they have about things. And then the real trick is getting them to challenge them. So you think about it this way, what are the other possibilities associated with it? And the reality is that if it doesn’t match. If what? If reality does not match your assumptions, it creates uncertainty and uncertainty we know creates cortisol, creates stress, and so then we get into this mode of confirmation bias.


[00:04:02] And and so when we’re talking about as I put together the decision-making module, one of the biggest things you have to overcome in decision making is confirmation bias. Just looking for, you know, making a decision based off of things and trying to get evidence to support what you want the decision to be, as opposed to looking at what the possibilities are. And so confirmation bias, it needs to be mitigated. And you can do that by changing the experience that people have. So the tendency is to hold on to our theories that work our assumptions. To create certainty, because our brain does not, as I mentioned, does not like uncertainty, so that’s why we don’t want to hear anything counter to things that we believe to be true. We only want to believe those things and we’re all going to find evidence. Right. Get an argument with somebody on Twitter or something like that. You’re going to look for the first article that supports your thinking on that particular subject where in reality, what we ought to be doing is going out and looking for things that counter our thinking about things. And and so the reality is in working with executives and really anybody is that people, humans are only capable of very small change has to be done incrementally. So if somebody is already pretty close-minded and you do get this with executives, I’d say about, I don’t know, 30 to 40 percent of executives that I’ve worked with are very good to me.


[00:05:49] I’m always wondering how did they get in this position? Then I realized that probably a good portion of these are in finance or I.T. or some particular area like that where things seem they are people that want to things to be very definite, are very finite in the way that they approach their world. So the realization that they can only handle small change, I have to create situations where they can go and see different things. And it’s one of the truths that I found over the years where I have lots of evidence of it is I can’t change and executive’s mind, they have to change their own. What I can do is put them into situations to help them expand their reality, if you will, and begin to look at things to change their history, if they only have a history of looking at it this way. So, for instance, going back to Episode 22 or is talking about connecting finance and I.T. and ancillary areas that are the experts to the customer, they’re going to get a different they’re going to get different perspectives, are going to have a different history to based off of what they’re thinking. But I also know I have to give them a steady diet of it in order to to make very small incremental changes and what they’re seeing and doing. And but it can’t happen. And sometimes you do see the occasional leap a little bit more than the than what I think might happen and certain people.


[00:07:35] So in the executive education program that you have the, you know, first thing to change your thinking or to develop new thinking or new history is to look through the customer lens. That’s going to give you a different perspective on things. So this is the synthetic part of it. So not only am I developing synthetic thinking skills to be able to look at the whole as opposed to just the parts, you’re going to look at it, because I think the customer, as I’ve said before, the customer is probably the best synthetic synthetic thinker, because when you call an organization, just putting yourself in the customer’s shoes for for a moment, they don’t care of that. You have an IT department and this they just want the problem solved. And so they are synthetic thinkers in the way that they look at things. So getting that perspective helps develop that particular skill and how your organization is viewed. Now, if we look at things through the another lens, which I call the thinking lens, then now we’re talking about these assumptions, these theories that work in your organization as especially around control and motivation. Those are two big ones that affect how your organization is performing. So what do you think about those things? You know, how do you think about rewards? How do you think about motivating people? Is it intrinsic? Is it extrinsic? And what theories at work are associated with other things that are out there? Do you believe in economies of scale? Those are all things that are helpful for you to identify.


[00:09:16] So you know what your operating assumptions are or your theories at work are. And again, I favor theories at work because I just think it’s it’s a more brain friendly way of describing words. And words do matter, definitely so. But it’s going to go. But in essence, by looking and understanding how your organization is put together through these two lenses, the customer lens and the theory lens, now you have new history to be able to go back and and tap into your ventral. Striatum to discover new ways of doing things in your organization, and this is where dopamine gets released because you get very excited about discovering things, I didn’t know that about the customer. I didn’t really understand how we thought about motivation or more importantly, how we let it play in our organization. And these are discoveries as part of the process. And so I can’t change your mind. You have to change your own. But what I can do is create a scenario for you to be able to look at things differently, to discover new possibilities in your organization. Hope this episode has been helpful to you. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please subscribe. Hit the bell, give you some other tips on things that I think may help you in your career and bring value to your organization. And if you are listening on the podcasts, you can sign up for the broadcasts we have about the podcast at


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