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  • Ian McCain

Perception vs. Reality: Challenging Assumptions for Business Innovation


perception vs reality

As human beings, we spend our waking lives processing and evaluating information received through our senses. This constant stream of data is designed to quickly orient us to our surroundings, providing context to our experiences. It is a rather heavy data processing load for our noggins and as a result we often take shortcuts for a lot of the elements in our lives that are "supposed to work a certain way." For the sake of this article, let's call them "assumptions," because, well, that's what they are.


In many circumstances, assumptions save us time when evaluating information and making decisions. It's practical and necessary, since being skeptical about how shadows work or that a traffic light will change would make daily life overwhelmingly complex.

However, the divide between perception and reality can manifest in unexpected ways, creating a grey area where optical illusions fool us, special effects dazzle us and magicians confound us.

I have found that the gap between perception and reality also significantly impacts the business world. Here, assumptions about how a process is believed to work often differ from its actual operation, with these unchallenged assumptions holding back potential improvements not just in efficiency, but also in organizational self-reflection.


In many organizations, processes are established based on assumptions stemming from industry best practices, institutional knowledge, or past methods. However, as the world evolves and new technologies emerge, these assumptions may become outdated, leading to inefficiencies or missed innovation opportunities.


Consider a manufacturing company using the same production process for decades. The assumption that this process is the most efficient might be challenged by technological advancements or changing consumer preferences, suggesting a more streamlined or cost-effective approach. Without questioning these assumptions and exploring alternatives, the company might miss opportunities to improve operations and gain a competitive edge.


Similarly, assumptions about customer behavior or market trends can lead businesses astray if not grounded in reality. For instance, a retailer assuming their target demographic prefers in-store shopping might be corrected by data showing a trend towards e-commerce. By challenging these assumptions and adapting strategies, the retailer can better meet their customers' evolving needs.


Exploring the gap between perception and reality can also foster a culture of continuous learning and growth. Encouraging employees to question assumptions and think critically creates an environment where innovation thrives.

In today's fast-paced world, challenging the status quo is essential. The old adage "the way things have always been done" is insufficient in a landscape of rapid change and disruptive innovation. Organizations must adopt a mindset of curiosity and exploration, asking not only how things work but how they could or should work.


Our innate tendency to seek patterns and make sense of the world serves us well but can also make us vulnerable to assumptions. In business, reliance on outdated methods due to familiarity or perceived low risk can stifle innovation and progress. Yet, by embracing continuous learning and being willing to question and challenge, businesses can unlock their full potential and achieve long-term success. Allowing the manufacturing company reevaluating its production processes or the retailer rethinking customer behavior assumptions can discover new opportunities.


Bridging the gap between perception and reality requires courage, curiosity, and a willingness to embrace change, challenging the way things have always been done and daring to envision a different future. This spirit of innovation is what sets successful organizations apart.


So, next time you encounter a familiar assumption, ask: what if things could be different?


Then dare to find out

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