Why We Should Challenge Old Assumptions (With a skilled facilitator)

The Easter Dinner

There is a story I like to tell, that illustrates why we need to challenge old assumptions. One Easter Sunday, the family gathered to enjoy the holiday. The family included a daughter, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. When the story begins, the daughter was in the kitchen with her mother. The mother was showing her daughter how to prepare the dinner. She pulled out a large ham from the refrigerator, and began to cut off both ends of the ham.

Then the daughter asked her mother, “Why do you cut off the ends of the ham?” The mother replied, “I don’t know; it’s how my mother taught me. She is in the living room, let’s ask your grandmother.” They went to the living room and asked the grandmother. “Mom, when preparing the Easter meal, why do we cut off both ends of the ham before placing it in the oven?” She replied, “I don’t really know, it is just how my mother taught me.”

The great grandmother was in a back bedroom, resting up for the family gathering. The three women went into her room and the mother asked the same question. “Grandma, every year when we prepare the ham for dinner, we go through a ritual that includes cutting off both ends of the ham, before placing in it the pan, and then into the oven. Mom says she doesn’t know why, and now my daughter is asking me why we cut off the ends. Can you tell us?” The great grandmother smiled and said, “Well, dear, in my day, our ovens were so much smaller than they are today. In order to get the ham into the oven, I had to cut the ends off.”

Why should we challenge assumptions

This story is only told to illustrate the point that we should challenge old assumptions. Are we doing things because “that is just the way things have always been done around here”? Or do those old assumptions still make sense? Time changes, technology changes, people change. Change for change’s sake is not what I am talking about here. You should not, however, avoid change out of fear, or worse, laziness.

Understand the obstacles

Of course, change makes people nervous, and many may have hidden reasons for the status quo to remain.

What I am suggesting is not easy, but I also believe that periodically a challenge the assumptions session is in the best interest of any organization.

This can be a tricky proposition, and is best handled with the assistance of a process expert. Note that the concept of process expert is not necessarily a change management expert. Employing a change management expert may be necessary at some point.

The first step is to allow the stakeholders to meet and discuss the issues, and challenge the assumptions. This process can become contentious, which is why a skilled facilitator may be necessary. A better process may come to light, but you’ll never know until you start challenging old assumptions.

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