What Happens When What You Know Ain’t So?

Paul Hebert Change, Change Management, Paul Hebert, Uncategorized

How often do you challenge your assumptions? You know, those things that form the bedrock of your opinions, beliefs and decision making. Do you ever ask yourself if what you think you know, is really so?

You should.

My experience has been that many poor decisions and failed concepts can be traced back to believing some key fact or piece of information was true, but then it was found not to be. That foundational building block in your decision process started a cascade of issues that made your project fail. I know you’re all thinking you’re immune to this problem because you’ve vetted your thinking. You’ve read the research. Read the blogs. Compared the points of view, the pros and cons. I’m willing to bet much of what you KNOW to be true, isn’t. Or soon won’t be.

Let’s run a little test shall we? Which of the following is false and which is true?

  • The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure that can be seen from space.
  • If you pick up a baby bird to put it back in its nest the mother bird will abandon them because she can smell you on their offspring.
  • Penguins mate for life.
  • NASA spent millions on a pen that could write in space while the Russians just used a pencil.

How many of those are true? Some? All? None? Doesn’t matter.

I’ll put links to stories for each of those in the bottom of this post.

The thing is we all have things we know are true. But, things change. Situations change. And therefore, your assumptions must change too.

My “Learning Experience”

My learning experience with “assumptions” came a young age. Back when it was a simpler time. Back when 7-day delivery was the fast option, there was literally no real internet yet and Otis locked himself into jail every Saturday night in Mayberry. Yes, you doe-eyed youngsters, there was a time when the internet was ubiquitous and drunks weren’t just on Real Housewives.

But back to my story. My team had a meeting with a company called CompuServ who provided internet dialup access to consumers. They were a competitor to AOL. For those of you reading this that have Y or Z in your generational cohort – AOL and Compuserv provided phone numbers you could dial from your computer that would connect you to the internet. I know. Quaint.

CompuServ met with my company to see if we could help create incentives to get consumers and computer retailers to include or use CompuServ as their internet service provider. We had about a 3-hour meeting and after they left, we walked back to our respective offices. During that short walk from the conference room to our offices I said to the team. And this is all true:

“I don’t see how they will ever get anyone to want to use a computer at home after the customer gets off work. I mean, who will want to get back on a computer after spending 8 hours at the office using one for work?”

Everyone nodded. We didn’t win the business.

Fast forward and you know how stupid that sounds now. EVERYONE wants to get on the computer no matter when or where they are. You see, my assumption was that the computer was a work device not a communication device, not a hobby device, not an art device. My ASSUMPTION was that computers were business tools. They weren’t. Or more accurately, they weren’t going to be.

That story is the movie that runs through my head every time someone tells me something I think is stupid. I take a deep break and ask:

“What assumption am I basing that opinion on, and is that assumption still valid?”

I’ve come up with some great stuff by putting aside my assumptions, listening and challenging my foundational beliefs.

And you should too.  

What HR Assumptions Should You Challenge?

Some easy ones come to mind and truthfully are currently being beat up pretty bad…

  • People should only work from an office.
  • Employees need to know everything going on in a company (or is opacity the new transparency?)
  • Pay should be transparent.
  • Not everyone can have pay for performance packages.
  • College degrees are required.

I might ask you to really dig deeper though. What if you asked:

  • Should people only have one job at a time?
  • Why can’t employees rotate every 6 months throughout the company regardless of background/history/experience?
  • Should everyone who already has the position you’re hiring for, also interview for the job again?
  • Companies need an HR department. (I know you don’t like this one.)

Other assumptions I’d challenge.

  • Employee engagement matters.
  • Employee experience matters.
  • Glassdoor reviews matter.
  • Employer branding makes any difference at all.

See how much fun it is!

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.


The idea isn’t to just be provocative and challenge everything. The idea is to make sure you’re not resting comfortably on a well-worn, but ultimately bad for your back, mattress.

Too many of our decisions are made using foundational data and beliefs we established a long time ago. Business changes so fast today we can’t simply rest on “old” beliefs. To be really really successfully you need to always be checking what you’re basing your decisions on.

Challenge yourself. Challenge your beliefs.

Don’t assume you KNOW something is true.

Don’t forget – Pluto used to be a planet. That was a FACT. It isn’t any more.

Check out this list – I know you believe some of them.


And the space pen story is interesting too…