Decisions based on assumptions is as effective as driving snow blind

Well the weather has been fairly mild so far this Winter, not like some Winters we’ve had in the past with very low temperatures and significant amounts of snow. Then, for many, travelling becomes a nightmare – and even more so for the thousands who regularly commute into London. Now employers are getting much more flexible about people working from home in such conditions, but that wasn’t always the case.

I recall one time when I was squashed onto a train heading into London one snowy winters morning. I was somewhat smug having got on near the start of the train’s journey and being in the enviable position of having a seat. Other passengers were not so lucky and were crammed in the aisles and the space by the doors.

As is often the case with snowy weather the train stopped at more stations than usual to try and offer some sort of service for those wanting to travel. In fact, after a few stops, no one was really able to get on and so our stops invariably provoked outbursts from cold and cross commuters on the platform who couldn’t get on the train.

On this day in particular it was bad. But one incident sticks in my mind. A few of those standing up had decided enough was enough and that dirt could be washed off and so had sat down on the floor. They weren’t taking up any more space than they had been when standing because the way they were sitting. But the fact that they were there, wasn’t obvious to those on the platform who couldn’t see them.

One man in particular was shouting at the top of his voice demanding that everyone move down inside the train to let passengers on. Of course no one in the carriage could move anywhere – there were people already there. They were just sitting on the floor out of sight. Unaware the man on the platform lost his temper and burst out into a long stream of unpleasant abuse aimed at what he thought were the selfish and uncooperative people on the train.

I don’t know why no one near the door told him what the problem was, possibly because they couldn’t see either, but it did make me wonder how often this happens with all of us. We see a situation, believe we see all the factors that are at play and react according to that view of the world. Well, I know that we can’t wait till we have all possible information before we decide to act, but I do think we are generally slow to stop and question the assumptions we are making about the nature of a situation before we act.

One of the more spectacular moments when assumptions weren’t checked was of course the financial crash of 2008, when most finance houses were assuming that American property prices would continue to go up. They didn’t and the rest as they say is history!

So next time you start to feel your emotions boil up; or are about to make a big decision, ask yourself, “what assumptions am I making about this situation?” And “how might it change my decision if my assumptions about what is going on aren’t true?”

Like much we talk about – it’s not complicated, it’s just difficult to do, but it’s always worthwhile. Just in case.