Our neighbour stopped by to tell us he found a water tap on his property supplied by water from ours. Before we purchased our property, the previous owners split the land. And Network Rail is planning to fill in the bridge which linked the now two distinct properties. As the infilling of the bridge is imminent ‘Farmer Steve’, as he is affectionately known as in our family, wanted to alert us of the water tap.
Unfortunately neither us nor Farmer Steve received a map of where the water pipes where installed by previous owners. Therefore it’s a bit of hunt. And now the land around the bridge looks like it has been under attack. It has trenches and holes plus the remains of broken pick axes and shovels. We’ve found the pipe in a few spots but also uncovered more mysteries.
So while we know where two pipes are, we don’t yet know if they are the pipes we are looking for. And the result of a couple of days of exploring is a horrendous looking garden.
Along the way, we’ve had to make assumptions using the clues we have. Where would you put a pipe? At what depth? Where is the supply line? How does what is known connect to each other?
And here’s the thing, when we finally figure it out, we’ll realise some (many?) of our assumptions were incorrect. And yet, without making the assumptions we would not have moved forward.
While this is true when trying to find water lines in our property, it is also true when trying to map data or trying to create organisational change. We make assumptions. We have to. However, sometimes it’s good to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What if that assumption wasn’t true?’ It can be helpful as it may provide a fresh perspective. Of course, it will lead to making other assumptions, but perhaps that helps us getting further towards our goal. Or simply helps confirm what isn’t true.
And here’s another thing. The more often we can voice our assumptions out loud, the better chance we have of someone engaging with us. Assumptions are not bad. In fact, they are good, necessary, and helpful. But we do need to make them visible. By ‘showing our work’ we enable others to engage and to understand our process.
This is vitally important in the world of data, which is full of assumptions which are viewed as objective truths.
And it’s quite important in finding water lines too. I’m off to keep digging.