busting assumptions for pumpkin spice latte

Most organizations constantly look for innovative thinking, and they regularly ask employees to come up with new ideas. The problem is, they don’t always arm their people with the tools or techniques to do it. At Ideas To Go, we teach several tools to provoke breakthrough thinking. One is the Forness® response—a mindset that keeps the good alive in any idea. The other is Assumption Busting—a technique that helps you break through the barriers that keep you from real, disruptive innovation.

We've addressed Forness® thinking before, including this post by Ideas To Go President, Beth Storz. Today's post focuses on busting your assumptions.

Assumption Busting for Better Innovation

Humans rely on past knowledge to shortcut problem-solving, so we don't have to spend time "learning" things we already know in order to solve a new problem. These are known as Cognitive Biases, and are the basis of our Behavioral Innovation™ approach.

We instantly, and subconsciously, call on everything we know from the past to come up with solutions. While this ability to call on past learning is an incredibly useful trait in many situations (it’s one of the reasons we’re at the top of the food chain), when you’re looking for new ideas, it actually becomes a significant barrier. It limits your thinking to nothing but variations of current ideas.

Let's consider the unofficial mascot of the entire autumn season, the Pumpkin Spice Latte. The minute you think of it, your brain makes a bunch of instantaneous assumptions about the PSL. These assumptions are probably things like:

  • You get it from a coffee shop.
  • It's liquid.
  • There's whipped cream on top.
  • It's only available in the fall.
  • You drink it out of a cup.
  • It's served hot.

But let's say your task is to create a new Harbinger of Fall? That automatic thought process limits the range of potential new ideas you can generate. Using the Pumpkin Spice Latte example again, now assume some of the above "facts" are NOT true. In other words, bust those assumptions. What ideas could you come up with then? You might think of ideas like:

  • DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte kits—each kit has all the ingredients to whip up your favorite seasonal latte at home, and will get you through an entire week.
  • Caffeinated pumpkin pie. One slice has the same caffeine as one cup of coffee.
  • The cream comes in a chilled cup on the side. That way it doesn't melt while on the latte, and you can add a personalized amount to your drink.
  • Sweet Potato Spice Latte--with mini marshmallow topping. Introduce an unconventional fall flavor.
  • Pumpkin Spice Latte Ice Cream—enjoy the same caffeinated beverage in a new form factor and with a bowl and a spoon.

When you can break unconscious assumptions, it leads to much more innovative thinking, because you're not limiting your creativity with artificial guardrails. Interestingly, the more expertise you have in an area, the more of these limiting assumptions you have unconsciously imbedded in your thinking—see Curse of Knowledge.  

We often get requests to do idea generation sessions with an internal team, or with a team of internal or external experts. The problem with groups composed of people with similar expertise is that they likely have a lot of the same imbedded assumptions. They might also succumb to Conformity Bias, and begin thinking similarly. During innovation, however, opposing viewpoints are extremely valuable.

To get around this, we always recommend diversity in a group that's responsible for generating new solutions. Consider including a few people with absolutely no expertise in your industrythey'll come up with things you wouldn't think of, simply because they don’t have the assumptions you carry as an expert. 


Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

©2018 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ideas To Go

Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.