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SMALL BUSINESS | How Much Did Your Assumptions Cost You Today?

How Much Did Your Assumptions Cost by Ronald G. Shapiro

Survival and success require making assumptions. We assume that bridges will carry us safely, otherwise we could not travel and highway bridges rarely collapse. Sometimes we make incorrect assumptions. Thus, we miss seeing obvious solutions which are right in front of us. In 2004 a man, dressed very simply appeared at the offices of a charity in New Jersey. Office staff assumed the man was homeless, requesting money, but he was not. He was Mack Ness, a vegetable farmer in his 90s, who wanted to donate $15 million. His contribution helped to develop Israel’s Negev. Translating the Mack Ness story to your small business, how might your business have gained if you had not made erroneous assumptions? How many relationships with customers, employees and business partners prospered because you reevaluated erroneous assumptions before they damaged your relationship? One area in which it is easy to make erroneous assumptions is customer complaints. It is easy to assume the customer wants far more than they actually want. When it comes time to trying to satisfy a customer with a complaint, do you ask them what they would like you to do or do you make assumptions? Years ago Mr. Kay of Kay’s-Newport, a women’s shoe store in Wayland Square, Providence, RI, explained that he always asked customers with complaints what they would like him to do. Most customers asked for less than one might have predicted. Customers frequently asked him to stretch shoes (a very simple process) rather than asking for refunds. Sometimes, Mr. Kay was even able to sell additional shoes while stretching the customer’s shoes. Another small business owner, Mr. Adams of Adams Fairacre Farms in


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

Poughkeepsie, New York used to ask complaining customers “What would you like me to do today?” Asking appropriate questions rather than merely accepting assumptions can facilitate solving numerous problems. I demonstrate this in my Education by Entertainment programs by asking a blindfolded participant (from grade 5 to professional) to find and describe a hidden prize. The audience sees a description of the prize and its location as Bryant University Psychology Association President Sarah Krabbe demonstrated in the accompanying photograph. The participant may search for the object and ask the audience yes/no questions. Typically, rather than asking logical questions which test their assumptions, the participant will ask questions to confirm their incorrect assumptions (including asking the same question many times) or explore the room. Most participants assume the object is not connected to them. Some will ask if their prize is the bandana or is on the bandana. Few will ask if their prize is in the bandana (although Sarah did). Many people will come extremely close to solving the problem then move to another line of questions, frequently revisiting questions already answered. When running a business, it is easy to have tunnel vision, focusing on only one area, or jumping from one focal area to another, repetitively, as many of our contestants do, while ignoring aspects of the business that have not been focused on recently or ever. Thus, we may miss seeing what is right in front of our eyes. Taking a step back and reviewing the big picture with potential input from employees, partners, customers and possibly a consultant may help to find new solutions. As small business owners who need to solve a variety of problems, our assumptions may prevent us from:

RISBJ Issue 4  
RISBJ Issue 4  

Issue 4 of Rhode Island's Premier Business Publication RISBJ