I’m convinced a poor appetite for research causes many of the business world’s most intractable problems.
I don’t mean academic research, necessarily, but more chasing down the facts rather than relying on lazy assumptions or outdated perspectives.
To give just one example, the big Hollywood studios have only embraced diversity slowly. Despite the success of films like Black Panther, non-white actors are not seen as often on the silver screen as they might be, and when they are it’s often in unflattering roles.
The studios’ excuse? Moviegoers, especially overseas, prefer all-white casts.
Now, I know you’re probably ahead of me here, but it turns out that particular lazy assumption is completely untrue.
What’s more, based on a recent review of nearly 1000 feature films, those which featured multiple ethnic minority actors actually achieved significantly higher revenues than films with fewer or no ethnic minority cast members.
But this isn’t about Hollywood movies, though. It’s just an example of what happens when assumptions are accepted without question….or data.
Assumptions like: customers won’t pay more than £X for our products…only men buy engineering components…nobody outside the UK would be interested in what we sell, and so on.
Whenever I come across an assumption, my instinct is to ask for the proof behind it. This occasionally makes me unpopular, but usually only for as long as it takes people to realise they have no rational basis for the views they’d expressed so forcefully just a few moments earlier.
It’s worse than that, of course, because the most insidious assumptions are the ones which are never talked about…the ones where “everybody knows that’s the way things are”. Nobody ever vocalises them, so nobody ever questions them.
So, by all means question the assumptions which get talked about in your business.
But try to spot the assumptions nobody talks about. Odds are those are the ones which hide your biggest opportunities. Because they’re the ones “everybody knows”, there’s almost certainly a market opportunity in doing the exact opposite.
And you’ll get a significant head start, because most of your competitors won’t even see your move coming. They’ll remain convinced “it’s impossible” right up to the moment you prove them wrong.
Because you challenged an assumption, but they never did.