Most organizations constantly look for innovative thinking, and they regularly ask employees to come up with new ideas. The problem is that they haven’t always armed their people with tools or techniques to do that. 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 recently, including the post by Ideas To Go President, Beth Storz last week. This post focuses on Assumption Busting.

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. 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.

The minute you think of a specific thing, say "salad dressing," your brain makes a bunch of instantaneous assumptions. That limits the range of potential ideas you come up with. These assumptions are probably things like:

  • It comes in a bottle.
  • It's liquid.
  • It's refrigerated/cold.
  • You put it on lettuce.
  • You serve the salad in a bowl or plate.
  • You eat the salad with a fork.

Using the salad dressing example again, now assume some of the above "facts" are NOT true. What ideas could you come up with then? You might think of ideas like:

  • Salad dressing that you heat in the microwave (if it's not cold).
  • Dressing for fruit, or for meat (if you don't put it on lettuce).
  • Powder whose full flavor is activated when it contacts the moisture of the lettuce (if it's not liquid).
  • Salad dressing in the form of a wrap, like fruit leather, so you can eat the salad on the go (if you don't serve it on a plate).
  • Salad dressing in the form of a skewer that you slide the lettuce and vegetables on (if you don’t eat it with a fork).

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.  

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. To get around this, we always recommend diversity in a group of people who are going to generate new solutions. Consider including a few people with absolutely no expertise in your industry; they'll come up with things you wouldn't think of, simply because they don’t have the assumptions you have 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.

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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.