I think it must have been in the days of high school when I first came across it. Most likely in science class or math. ‘When you assume, you make an a** out of you and me.’ It was catchy and had a good ring to it, so it stuck. It’s hard from me to see the word assumptions now without my mind reciting the phrase.
However, in my recent work with data and technology, I’m realising we all make assumptions all the time. And no matter how hard we try, it seems impossible to state them all up front.
A recent book I read, the authors practiced their recommendations by stating up front they were two white women, academics, and so on. This was a part of their attempt to recognise the lens they were viewing the world through. To alert the readers to it and to acknowledge they had their own bias because of who they were.
Last week I shared out the recommendations of a working group with representatives of multiple organisations. In the recommendations, we stated our assumptions up front. And then the feedback started coming.
My gut response to most feedback so far starts with, ‘oh, we assumed…’ And then the childhood phrase kicks off in my head. I also then add the assumption to the ever growing list…
We’re never going to be able to list all our assumptions at the beginning. An assumption list should not be seen a fixed list, but rather an ever growing up. One that evolves. And as others ask us questions, it allows us to check our assumptions. Even the ones we didn’t know we had.
I don’t think my childhood phrase it true. When we assume, it makes us human. And we need other humans to call out and help us ‘see’ our assumptions.